Ireland of the Hidden Centuries

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Ireland of the Hidden Centuries Powered By Docstoc
					© Journal of the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society Vol. 8 No. 4 1999

by Michael Merrigan, FGSI (First Published in 1999) With echoes of the speech by Mrs. Mary Robinson, following her inauguration as President of Ireland in November 1990, I wrote the following lines on a period of our history, as yet, much undiscovered by genealogists. Described variously as the “Hidden Ireland” or the “Secret Ireland” but, to be fair, was not Ireland simply blind to the very existence of this “Other Ireland”? SECRET IRELAND1 Come dance with me In Ireland, she said, Till time and rhyme Make unlocked The secrets of my race. Yes, come dance with me, she said, To the echoes of a bygone age. Tongues in whispers calling still For in the eyes of now Generations lost live yet The secrets of my race. Dance we will, she said, To look upon the face Of our mighty Conn 2, His hundred battles o'r. To breakfast with Meadhb Pondering brave Setanta's3 fate For the sake of Cooley's bull So lives the secrets of my race. Dancing, she whispered, The blacksmith's wife, a Baron, The father of a nation's Hero bore and yet, In Rome's eternity, cold lies The vanquished of Kinsale4. Comfort untold his hearth's memories hold The secrets of my race. Come on, dance with me, she snapped, To cold Norbury's5 gaze And hear the words, Treason to God immaculate Appeals a nation's cause, yet Of Sarah's6 love no crude mark Of stone to honour The secrets of my race. Come, she cried, dancing Wildly through the land To smell the blight's sweetness In blackest desolation, our dead Starved of mourners soft caress How deeply the living forget The secrets of my race.

“Secret Ireland” Michael Merrigan (24.06.98) © Conn of the Hundred Battles - Conn Céad Cathach Cú Chulainn - An Táin - epic poem set c. 500 BC in Ireland. 4 The Great O‟Neill, Hugh, son of Matthew, the illegitimate son of Conn O‟Neill (1484-1559). Matthew was the son of a Dundalk Blacksmith‟s wife named Kelly. 5 st 1 Earl Norbury, (1745-1831) - anti-Catholic presiding judge at Robert Emmet‟s trial. 6 Sarah Curran, daughter of John Philpot Curran, love of Robert Emmet (1778-1803)
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© Journal of the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society Vol. 8 No. 4 1999

Dancing stopped, awake she said Wrenching the journey From my grasp and fade The memories to the night Of people, places and the past, still The secrets of my race. Come dance with me in Ireland....she said Till time and rhyme Deliver us from the Memory of our Dead. Come dance... On the eve of a new and hopefully, peaceful Millennium, genealogists and historians, possibly more than others, are prone to look back over the past few centuries with a sense of loss and despair. Not for what they might like to have changed or influenced, but particularly, those events that have made our research more difficult than it otherwise might have been. Say, for example, what if Rory O‟Connor 7 and pals decided to occupy another building other than the Four Courts or, better still, they had decided to stay in bed on the morning of the 13 th April 1922? Or that there may have been a genealogist or two manning the artillery piece for the Free State Forces ensuring that each shell landed harmlessly in the river, you never know, things may have been different. No matter how we look at the present and the previous century, genealogists have to a great extent managed without much difficulty to augment the loss of the various 19th century Census Returns because of the availability of ecclesiastical records for the period. However, what was lost to the flames in the PRO was the corpus of documents relating to the overthrow of the Gaelic order in Ireland and the period up to the dawn of the 18th century. Few records of that period exist in Ireland and efforts to augment the loss by consulting contemporary records in Great Britain or mainland Europe still fail to fill the gap. Generally, for genealogists researching Irish ancestry the two centuries before the re-organisation of the Roman Catholic Parish system, mostly following Emancipation 8 in the first half of the 19th century, remains a dark void. Scraps of information in Estate Records, scattered Religious Censii or in the surviving Hearth Money Rolls provides the bulk of what‟s available to researchers today. In many cases we are totally unaware of where our ancestors lived in a particular county or, indeed, if they were in that county at all at that time. This has led most of us to consider ourselves lucky to get beyond 1780 - all records cease, or do they? Nobody would doubt the existence of the recorded classes, the landed gentry, the professional or political classes, however, for most of the Irish, our ancestors constituted, as Daniel Corkery put it, the “Hidden Ireland 9”. Tenant farmers, landless labourers or itinerant farm labourers - unrecorded and, for the most part, forgotten. Their homesteads gone and now indistinguishable amongst the myriad of stonewalled ditches in our landscape. A landscape picturesque and much loved by the artist and picture postcard publisher, echoes of our ancestors all but lost save for a field name there and. possibly, a lonely cross-roads beyond. But is this as despairingly true as it may sound or is there a glimmer of hope that all may not be lost? The Ireland of the late 17th and 18th centuries was a polarised society of Protestant (Anglican) landowners and administrators - civil and ecclesiastic, a marginalised Catholic tenant farmer class with a growing trader/merchant minority and an impoverished peasantry and in Ulster, a disaffected Presbyterian majority slowly becoming politicised during the 18th century. Indeed, by January 1698 as the great Gaelic poet, Dáithí Ó Bruadair10 was being laid to rest at the age of 73 years, the full force of the Protestant State was being moulded legislatively to suppress the religion11 of the majority population, deprive them of civil and religious rights and to drive their customs, language and culture to extinction. Yes, it‟s true to say that these laws were neither uniformly nor universally enforced throughout the kingdom, but the success of these legislative measures should be judged by the serious shift in the level of Irish Catholic landholders in the Williamite12 period. The Irish supporters of James II lost a total of 3,921 estates which were forfeited to the Crown involving a total acreage of 1,060,792 acres. This forfeiture facilitated the third major plantation 13 in Ireland during the 17th century - this time, of Williamite soldiers and supporters.
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Leader of the Anti-Treaty forces in the Four Courts & Public Records Office, Dublin, 1922. 1829 - “Act for the relief of His Majesty‟s Roman Catholic subjects” received Royal Assent on the 13 th April 1829. 9 “The Hidden Ireland” by Daniel Corkery. Gill & Macmillan, Dublin - 1967 10 It is said that he was born at Barrymore in east Co. Cork circa 1625, but lived most of his life in Co. Limerick. He was well educated speaking Irish, English and Latin. 11 1697 - Sept. 25th - “Act for banishing all papists exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction & all regulars of the popish clergy out of the kingdom of Ireland” - to be gone by May 1st 1698. 12 William III - defeated his son-in-law, James II and became King with his wife, Mary, Queen. 13 Ulster 1612+, Cromwelliam 1650+ and Williamite 1691+


© Journal of the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society Vol. 8 No. 4 1999

The Jacobite14 defeat and the exile of most of their leaders after the Treaty of Limerick, 1691, left the majority population to the misery of a slow decline over the following century. There was no real zeal amongst the Protestant elite to proselytise and turn Ireland into a largely Protestant kingdom, indeed, this was evident from the failure of the efforts of Bishop Bedell15, Archbishop Price16 and others earlier in the 17th century. Therefore, impoverishment and total subjugation of the majority population was the real goal of the legislative programmes adopted by the Dublin Parliament. The story of Ireland during this period is often portrayed as that of the English speaking minority, Dub lin centred, cultured, Protestant and wholly silent on the world or plight of the Irish speaking, Catholic and immeasurably poorer majority. It‟s against the backdrop of an 18th century Irish ethno-religious apartheid that the oral tradition flourished in Corkery‟s “Hidden Ireland”. This underclass of Irish peasants became the custodians of a tradition that claimed origins reaching back to the dawn of history and before. Few of the custodians of this tradition realised that they were witnessing the swansong of Gaelic Bardic Poetry and the reluctant birth of Gaelic Folk Poetry. Bardic Poetry with its measured rhyme and metre was greatly used as “Praise Poetry” for the great Gaelic (and many non-Gaelic) nobles of Ireland up to the collapse of the Gaelic civilisation in the 17th century. The lines of poetry were in many cases accompanied by the music of a court harper, the successors of whom, were described as wandering minstrels in 18th century Ireland - the most celebrated of which nowadays is Turlough O‟Carolan (Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin) (1670-1738) of whom we‟ll speak later. The profound cultural shock experienced by Gaelic Ireland following the Williamite Wars left an entire population divorced from the structures which sustained it and culturally nurtured it for millennia. Or in the words (in translation) of Tadhg Rua Ó Conchubhair (d. circa 1690) (Red Tim O‟Connor) of Castleisland 17, Co. Kerry - “A trick of this treacherous world puts the rich above reproach. If you‟re poor you have no sense and jus tice goes undone”18 - we see his and his contemporaries predicament. Another view of the same theme was expressed by Seán Clárach Mac Dómhnaill (1691-1754) from Charleville, Co. Cork where he was a farmer and well known for his Jacobite sympathies. Seán Clárach will be best remembered for his poem “Bimse Buan ar Buairt Gach Ló” 19 or more popularly known nowadays as „Sé mo loach, mo ghille mear,....‟ song by many a Traditional and Folk singer in Ireland. The song is dedicated to Bonie Prince Charlie and the Rebellion of 1745 in Scotland. According to Corkery, MacDómhnaill held “Court” twice annually at Charleville on his farm at Kiltoohig and at Bruree, Co. Limerick. Seán‟s poem “Taiscidh, A Chlocha”20 on the death of Col. James Dawson of Aherlow, Co. Tipperary, says much on the agrarian strife of the period. He speaks of Dawson‟s lavish spending, his ill treatment of and famine amongst his tenants. He opens his poem describing Dawson as “a bloody and treacherous butcher” and ends exalting maggots to busy themselves on his carcass. Seán Clárach is buried near Charleville, Co. Cork and the inscription on his tomb reads 21 I.H.S Johannes Mac Donald cogno minatus Clárag vir vere Catholicus et tribus linquis ornatus nempe Graeca Latina et Hybernica non vulgaris Ingenii poeta tumulatur ad hunc cippum obiit aetatis Anno 63. Salutis 1754 Requiescat in pace People such as the Poets mentioned above were often Hedge School22 Masters providing the only formal education available to the majority population during the 18th and early 19th centuries. The impact of these Hedge School Masters on Irish education can clearly be seen from the Official Return of Popish Schools in 1731 which reported a total of 560 throughout the country. In 1812, there were circa 4,000 and following another Official Enquiry in 1824,
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Followers of the Stuarts - King James II etc. Bishop William Bedell, died 1642, Provost of Trinity College Dublin responsible for the translation by James Nangle & Murtagh King of the Old Testament into Irish started in 1629 and published in 1685. 16 Anglican Archbishop of Cashel 1667-1685 advocated the use of Irish as the medium of the Church of Ireland (Anglican). 17 “Deirtear go raibh cónaí air ar an gCarraig Dhubh láimh le hOileán Ciarraí” Caoimhghin Ó Góilidhe - “Díolain Filíochta” Dublin, 1974 (It is said that he lived at Carrichduff (Blackrock?) near Castleisland, Co. Kerry) 18 “De Bheartaibh an tSaoghail tSilim” p. 124 “An Duanaire 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed” Seán Ó Tuama & Thomas Kinsella, Dublin 1985 19 “Díolaim Filíochta” p. 136 20 “Taiscidh A Chlocha Ar Bhás Shéamuis Dawson” p. 172 “An Duanaire 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed” Dublin, 1985. 21 “The Hidden Ireland” - Daniel Corkery, Dublin, 1975 - p. 243 22 Hedge School - unofficial local Catholic schools in Ireland prior to the National School System being introduced in 1831.


© Journal of the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society Vol. 8 No. 4 1999

a total of 9,300 Hedge Schools were in operation with approximately 400,000 pupils in attendance. Indeed, in the same year, 1824, there were 11,800 schools of all types in the country with an attendance of 500,000 or some 8% of the population. This was the highest in Europe at the time 23. Taking this Hedge School movement into account, one can fully appreciate the position in Irish society held by our poets and other learned men in 18 th century Ireland. In supplying the above statistics and the previous brief description of the socio-political climate of 18th century Ireland, one is at pains to explain the lack of source material available to researchers. Ireland of that time was country of clearly two distinct “nations” one Catholic and Gaelic speaking, the other Protestant and English speaking, with hostility between the two, or the threat of such, posing a real and present danger for the authorities. The growth of an urban, English speaking, Catholic population in Dublin24 and other towns gathered pace during the century, and even more so, during the 19th century. This English speaking Catholic Ireland is well recorded in that this “community” lived virtually unmolested by the authorities in the prosperous east of Ireland like Dublin, Drogheda, Wexford, Kilkenny and Waterford etc. Catholic Parish Registers 25 for Dublin for the period are available for St. Michan‟s (1726), St. Paul‟s (1731), St. Mary‟s (1734), St. Catherine‟s (1740), St. Andrew‟s (1742), St. James (1742) and St. Nicholas (Francis St.) (1742), with approximate corresponding dates for Drogheda, St. Peter‟s (1744), Wexford, (167126), Kilkenny, St. Mary‟s (1754) and Waterford, possibly, the best with a number of its city parishes dating from the first decades of the 1700s. It is from this emerging English speaking Catholic merchant class that most of Catholic religious leaders were to come during the 18 th and 19th centuries knowing little or nothing of their co-religionists in “Gaelic Ireland”. So what of this Ireland beyond the Pale? Our picture of the country during this period is as much moulded by the commentaries of the establishment of the day as by our distance from this Ireland forged by the shift in languages from Irish to English. To many of us, the only glimpse of this hidden world was through Gaelic Poetry made unintelligible by a post-independence official policy of the compulsory learning of Irish, much of the time, taught in a most unappealing manner by those with the unfortunate combination of zeal and ignorance27. Little interest was ever really shown in researching this period from the perspective of the “other” Ireland until men like An tAthair Pádraig Ó Duinnín 28 (Fr. Patrick Dineen), Daniel Corkery and of course, the first President of Ireland, Dr. Douglas Hyde,29 researched aspects of the period and published in both English and Irish. Fr. Dineen‟s main contribution to opening up this “Hidden Ireland” was his dictionary, though, according to the late Prof. Brian Ó Cuív 30 (1916-99), he was an arch-conservative whose approach retarded the development of the modern written Irish language. He also painstakingly collected the poems attributed to Eoghan Ruadh Ó Súilleabháin of whom I‟ll speak later. Arch conservative, well be that is as may, his dictionary is still an invaluable tool in accessing the available texts and manuscripts of our period. Turning back to the subjects of our period, the Poets, Aodh de Blácam 31 gives us a fine account of one such man, Humphrey O‟Sullivan (1780-1837). Humphrey was a native of Killarney, Co. Kerry, the son of Denis O‟Sullivan, and who spent most of his life as a schoolmaster in Callan, Co. Kilkenny. He taught at Killaloe and Ballykeefe villages. Humphrey was a remarkable scholar and a collector of Irish MSS and he kept a diary for the years 18261835. De Blácam pulls no punches when he says “Such has been the neglect of Irish letters for a century that all of the writings of this cultured, imaginative and patriotic spirit, nothing has been printed until some pages of the diary appeared in 191232.” This diary contains many curious details on the flora of the area, names given in Latin and Irish, and also his views on the lives of the ordinary folk (lucht botháin tuaithe) of his area. He was a passionate supporter of Catholic Emancipation and O‟Connell‟s Repeal Movement speaking at a mass rally in Ballyhale in 1832. I am sure the late Dr. de Blácam will forgive my quoting this following passage as it gives a flavour of the period. One day , May 14th 1827, he was at a funeral at Killaloe, a village a little north of Callan, and he drank at (?) Ballintaggart crossroads, Is fada atá aithne agam air na crosróid, he writes: “I have long knowledge of Crossroads.” It was there, in the summer of 1791, or thirty-six years before, that he and his father came to set up school. A schoolhouse was built for them in three days, doubtless by the earnest co-operation of the country folk,
“Ciste Cursaí Reatha” Jim O‟Donnell & Seán de Fréine, IPA, Dublin 1992 - ISBN 1 872002 46 3 page 151 “Oideachas” Interesting that Tadhg Ó Neachtáin (Teig O‟Naughton), the son of Seán Ó Neachtáin of Co. Roscommon and Winifred Nangle (poss. Co. Meath), writing in 1728, enumerates no fewer than twenty-six Gaelic poets and scribes living in Dublin at that time. They formed a Gaelic Literary Circle in the Capital. 25 “Irish Records - Sources for Family & Local History” by James G. Ryan, ISBN 0 916489 76 0 26 Wexford has many records missing prior to 1723 approx. 27 School Registers in the 1930s and 1940s were compiled in Irish with all surnames “Gaelicised” sometimes with appalling inaccuracies and ludicrous inventions. 28 “Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla” (Irish - English Dictionary), Dublin, 1904 (Reprinted 1927) 29 “Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta” (Irish Stories/Folktales) (1889) and “An Sgeuluidhe Gaodhalach” printed in Rennes, France in 1895. 30 “A View of the Irish Language”, Brian Ó Cuív, Dublin, 1969 - p.150 (26). 31 “Gaelic Literature Surveyed” , Aodh de Blácam, Dublin, 1929 & 1973. ISBN 0 85452 080 5 - pages 341/2. 32 “Diaries of Ireland An Anthology 1590-1987” Edited by Melosina Lennox-Conyngham, Dublin, 1998. ISBN 1 874675 78 3 pages 153-162 -Amhlaoidh Ó Súilleabháin (Humphrey O‟Sullivan)
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© Journal of the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society Vol. 8 No. 4 1999
anxious for education. He continues in translation from Irish “.... and „twas a small hut of a school surely; for it was not wider than ten feet or longer than twenty feet (or thereabouts). The wall of sods was built in one day; timber and wattles were added the day after, and the roof was put on it on the third day. A person, frequently confused with Humphrey, was another of Ó Súilleabháin stock, Eoghan Ruadh Ó Súilleabháin (1748-1784). He was a fascinating figure who travelled to many parts of Ireland as a Hedge School Master and even spent time abroad in the British Navy - however, maybe not by choice33. Eoghan Ruadh came from the Sliabh Luachra area just about 15kms east of Killarney, Co. Kerry. This district was the cradle of the great Sliabh Luachra Court of Irish Poets with families such as the O‟Rahillys, O‟Scannells and of course, O‟Sullivans excelling. Born at Meentogues in 1748, Eoghan Ruadh (Owen Roe) attended the local Hedge School and became proficient in Latin and Greek. Indeed, by eighteen years of age, he opened his own school at Gneeveguilla just north of his birth place. According to Corkery, Eoghan Ruadh had to leave the area in haste pursued by a threatening priest, in fact, leaving areas in haste was to become a hallmark of his life. He became a spailpín or itinerant farm labourer. He was one time teacher to the children of the Nagle family of Fermoy, Co. Cork, before embarking on his maritime career on board HMS Formidable which saw action in the West Indies against the French in 1782. Not knowing how it happened, but it did, Eoghan Ruadh was transferred from the Navy to the British Army and was stationed in England, where he also spent a period at “His Majesty‟s Pleasure” allegedly for drunkenness. Eventually finding his way home to Kerry and to open a school at Knocknagree Cross. 34 However, the school didn‟t last and in 1784 he found his way to the home of Col. Daniel Cronin of Park, Killarney, Co. Kerry, where not finding work returned home. Not long afterwards, according to Corkery, he had a chance meeting with some servants of Cronin‟s in an ale-house - a quarrel arose, blows exchanged and Eoghan Ruadh received a sharp blow to the head from which he later died. It‟s the account of his life and his encounters with others that interests the genealogist in search of scraps in the largely unrecorded world of the “Hidden Ireland.” For example his meeting, when in his early twenties, with Tadhg Críona Ó Scannaill (Old Teig O‟Scannell) dosing him with whiskey and mocking his feebleness of age, only to be rebuked by Matthew Hegarty of Glenflesk. Or in his Aislings (vision poems) and songs where we get a clearer picture of life at this time. One such songs contains the names of the Cromwellian planters in the poets district:Gibson, Brown, Townsend, Gill, Tonson, Gore, Dickson, Mowls, Boulton, Buttons, Bowen, Kickson, Southwell, Moulton, Miller, Dore, Steelman, Stephens, Stanner, Swain, Parnell, Fleetwood, Reeves, Shutman, Lane, Lysight, Leader, Clayton, Compton, Coote, Ivers, Deamer, Bateman, Bagwell, Brooks, Ryder, Taylor, Manor, Marrock, Moore, Upton, Evans, Bevins, Basset, Blair, Burton, Beecher, Wheeler, Farren, Fair, Turner, Fielding, Wallis and Dean35. Whether all these names actually existed in the Kerry/Cork/Limerick area or whether, some were chosen to fit the various stanzas requires further investigation. Others mentioned by Eoghan Ruadh include his friend, Séamus Fitzgerald 36, a smith and Kate O‟Leary, who “sequestered” a pair of stockings of his because he owed her fourpence, and one elegy on Fr. Con Horgan who died on 20th January 1773. Without, Eoghan Ruadh would these people be remembered at all? There are many other fine examples of similar “resources” in the works of other poets of the period, but time and space permit only the briefest taste of what‟s in store for the genealogist in Gaelic poetry and the lives of our poets. Turning now to an area with a greater familiarity for most - the musicians of the period, especially, those who both combined the skill of the poet and the artistry of the finest musician - Turlough O‟Carolan (Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin) (1670-1738). Variously described as Ireland‟s “National Composer” and the “Last Great Harper”, Turlough O‟Carolan‟s music enjoyed somewhat of a revival in the 1960s in Ireland. Few, if any, of the traditional musicians of this great revival would omit a piece by Carolan37 from their repertoire. On March 30th 1969, in the Gaeity Theatre38 on Dublin‟s Stephen‟s Street, the great Séan Ó Riada, his band, Ceoltóirí Chualann 39 and the fine singer, Seán Ó Sé gave a concert produced by Seán Ó Mórdha in honour of another fine Poet of the age, Peadar Ó Doirnín, who died in

Eoghan Ruadh contends in one of his poems that he was “pressed for the Navy”. He wrote to the local priest, Fr. Ned Fitzgerald in Irish and English advertising the school. See Corkery, page 201. - letter lists many subjects, Catechism, book-keeping, Euclid‟s Elements, Navigation, Trigonometry and sound gauging, English Grammar with rhyme and reason and “Sweet love letters for the Ladies”. 35 “Songs Against the Pirates” (planters), Corkery, p. 205. 36 “A Chara mo Chléibh - chuig Séamais Mhic Ghearailt” An Duanaire 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed, page 182. 37 “Carolan” is now the widest and most accepted form of his name in use today. 38 “Ó Riada sa Gaeity” produced by Gael Linn, 54, Grafton Street, Dublin 2. 39 Musicians:- Máirtín Fay, Seán Ó Ceallaigh, Seán Ó Catháin, Paddy Moloney, Seán Potts, Mícheál Ó Toibride, Éamon de Buitléar, Peadar Mercier and Seán Ó Riada.
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© Journal of the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society Vol. 8 No. 4 1999
April 1769.40 Ó Doirnín was of the “Ulster” tradition, though, born in County Louth, and one of the finest of our Gaelic lyric poets of this period. Seán Ó Sé sang a version of one of Ó Doirnín‟s finest compositions with a title much in use since President Robinson‟s time - “Mná na hÉireann” (Women of Ireland). This concert finally, however, exposed the Irish people to the music of Carolan and, for the first time, they realised that Ireland too had a “classical” tradition, however, quite distinct from that on mainland Europe. Its roots were firmly based in the Bardic or Court Music of Gaelic Ireland. Séan Ó Riada, from his training in the European classical tradition fully realised that Carolan linked the old Irish arttradition and the prevailing European styles of the early 18th century. This musical blend produced a quite unique sound with a resonance all its own. With the untimely death of Ó Riada, Carolan, may well have remained in relative obscurity for the majority in Ireland, however, save for a visionary decision by Gareach de Brún to, as Gerald Hanley put it, to disinter the music of Carolan and to record it for publication for the first time with the Belfast Harper, Derek Bell41. But to comment on the musical quality, form or otherwise, I‟ll leave to others, I wish to deal with the content of his poetry as a possible source of information for the genealogist. The aim of the exercise is to bring the persons mentioned by Carolan to the notice of genealogists in the absence, in most cases, of any other record of the existence of these people. Once again, time and space only permit the briefest of excursions into the life and times of this harper-poet, however, I hope that I may have kindled an interest in the subject to spur others to delve more deeply into this rich resource. Turlough O‟Carolan was born in 1670 in or about Nobber 42 in Co. Meath. An area in which his family had a small farm and to which, it is claimed, he had ancestral links back to one Shane O‟Carolan, “chief of his sept” at the turn of the 17th century. This Shane, otherwise “Shane Grana” (Ugly John) was said to have been Carolan‟s great grandfather.43 In Donal O‟Sullivan‟s fine work on Carolan, he records Hardiman‟s point that “Patrick Carolan, the bard‟s paternal uncle, appears, however, in 1691 to have possessed the lands of Muff, 300 acres, in Nobber parish, forfieted by Lord Gormanston for adhereing to James II, and Neal Carolan, his second cousin, was at the same time, in possession of the lands of Rabranmoone, 325 acres, in Stackallen parish, forfeited by Lord Slane 44.” O‟Sullivan is not entirely convinced on this ancestry, though, he does not totally discount it. However, Turlough, when quite young, possibly fourteen or so, his father John Carolan45, moved his family westward to firstly to Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, in the employ of the St. George family and then to the estates of The MacDermott Roe at Alderford, near the village of Ballyfarnon about 8kms north of Lough Key in County Roscommon. Of Carolan‟s early childhood spent at Cruisetown, Co. Meath, we know little except that this was the home of his childhood sweetheart, Brigid Cruise, of who I‟ll speak later. Following the move to Alderford, Carolan received some formal education at the home of Mrs. Mary MacDermott Roe (neé FitzGerald from Co. Mayo) and, it is said, that the boy learned to read and write in Irish and, in all probability, English too. In his eighteenth year Carolan contracted smallpox which rendered him totally blind. Mrs. MacDermott Roe, who seems to have become a sort of guardian to the young Carolan, though, she could not have been too many years his senior, placed him with a relative, a harper by the name of McDermott Roe, until he learned what was to become his life long trade. At the age of twenty-one she gave him a horse, a guide and some money and there he entered the life of an itinerant harper in the Irish tradition. Many of the Irish harpers were blind, for music was one of the few professions in which sight was not essential. In providing a glimpse of the information available to us through his music, we have to look no further than his first port of call, the home of George Reynolds at Letterfian, County Leitrim. Carolan‟s composition for Reynolds was the beautiful “Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór” describing a conversation between to hills (fairy mounds) near Lough Scur in Co. Leitrim. This tune was a favourite of Ó Riada and later much played by the Chieftains. He continues on to County Longford and the home of a James Farrell (wife Mary Nugent) where he composed an air for his wife “Mrs. Farrell”. This pattern of patronage or payment for music was sustenance of the itinerant harper-poet‟s livelihood and therefore, his rich repertoire provides the fascinating insight into the life and times of his patrons, the subjects of his compositions and, indeed, the bard himself. He was unusual, however, in that he composed the music first and then the words to fit the tune. Later in his life, according to his friend and patron, Chales O‟Conor, “Vivaldi charmed him and with Corelli he was enraptured” - indeed, he also greatly admired Geminiani, whom he

De Blácam disputes this and gives his year as (1704-1768) and not as claimed (1684-1769) - see p.298/299 - “Gaelic Literature Surveyed”. 41 “Carolan‟s Favourite” & “Carolan‟s Receipt” by Derek Bell, Claddagh Records, Dame St, Dublin 2. The producer of “Carolan‟s Favourite” Alan Tongue introduced Derek Bell to the Chieftains in 1972 and Carolan‟s music is now featured on their recordings. 42 According to the Very Rev. Francis Canon Carolan of Tullyallen, Carolan was born at Spiddal, near Nobber, Co. Meath, however, Hardiman, states Newtown, 2 miles west of Nobber near Kilmainhamwood - next to Cruisetown. 43 “Carolan - The Life Times and Music of an Irish Harper”, Donal O‟Sullivan (2 vols.), London, 1958 - ISBN 0 9503784 8 8 pages 32/33. 44 Assertion based Exchequer Rolls seems unreliable, according to O‟Sullivan, p. 33 45 Possibly also a blacksmith working in the foundry at Ballyfarnon.


© Journal of the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society Vol. 8 No. 4 1999

met in Dublin, guests of Lord Mayo, and, according to most sources, from that auspices meeting, a trial of ingenuity between the two, we have “Coinséarto Uí Chearbhalláin” - “Carolan‟s Concerto”. Whole families were immortalised in his compositions, for example the Maguires of Tempo in the County Fermanagh, for whom he composed many tunes including, “Brian Maguire 46” and “Constantine Maguire47” or ortherwise known as “Planxty Maguire”. The word “Planxty” is used frequently by Carolan and according to Paddy Moloney, the great piper with the Chieftains, “planxty” is a corruption of the Gaelic word “sláinte” meaning “health” as when the word is written in the old Gaelic script “sláinte” the „s‟ looks like a „p‟ - seems very likely. Indeed, according to Seán Mac Réamoinn of Gael Linn 48, the term may well have been invented by Carolan. In another piece “Elizabeth Nugent” he gives us the full name of the lady “Beitidhe Nuinsion Inghíon Shéamuis Nuinsion san Midhe” or “Betty Nugent daughter of James Nugent of Meath 49” and he composed this piece on the occasion of the marriage of Elizabeth Nugent of Castle Nugent to Major Francis Conmee of Kingsland. Though, much of his time was spent in north Leinster and Connacht, and wrote many pieces in praise of the O‟Conors of Belanagere, of whom, our Society‟s President, O‟Conor Don, is a descendant, he wrote of others of the name. These O‟Connors were an entirely different Sept to those of Connacht, Ó Conchubair Fáilgheach - O‟Connor Faly (Offaly). One air was to Maurice O‟Connor, son of John O‟Connor Faly of Cappagarrane near Tullamore, Co. Offaly, who became head of the family following his father‟s death at the Battle of Aughrim, 1691. Turning to the information gathered by Donal O‟Sullivan, for example, “Planxty Reilly” was composed for one John Reilly of Oristown in the parish of Clongill, Co. Meath and, of whom, O‟Sullivan 50 states was “the son of Edward O‟Reilly, must have died before the 18th December, 1742, for administration of his estate was granted on that date to Bryan, Luke, John and Peter O‟Reilly” - all possibly his sons. Indeed, many of his subjects were related by blood or marriage and it seems probable, that Carolan was “recommended” by one “Big House” to another. O‟Sullivan provides many notes of genealogical information on Carolan‟s subjects, much of which, is either gleaned from the poems themselves or from his own research through various sources, contemporary and otherwise. Carolan‟s travelling took him mostly through counties, Meath, Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Westmeath, Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon, Fermanagh, Sligo and east Mayo and Galway. Once when on pilgrimage to the St. Patrick‟s Purgatory on Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, Carolan being blind, as he assisted some passengers to board the boat, he chanced to take a lady‟s hand and instantly exclaimed, “Dar lámha mo cháird is Chríost” that this is by the hand of my gossip, “this is the hand of Bridget Cruise” - his sense of feeling was such that he remembered the hand of his childhood sweatheart from Cruisetown, Co. Meath 51. Being away from his farm at Mohill, Co. Leitrim, to which he went following his marriage to Mary Maguire of Fermanagh, daughter of Hugh of Tempo, and with whom, he had seven children, six daughters and one son. On the marriage of his daughter Síobhán to one Captain Sudley of the King‟s Army, Carolan wrote the piece “Spré Shuibháin Ní Chearbhalláin” or “Carolan‟ s Dowry”, however, nothing is known of the Captain and he can‟t, according to O‟Sullivan, be found in the army lists of the time. Mary Carolan died in 1733 to be followed by the Bard himself five years later. According to Gáinne Yeats, in 1732, when his health was beginning to fail him, Carolan, made his was back to Ballyfarnon, to the house of his friend and patron, Máire MacDermott Roe, who on coming out to greet the old harper, heard him say “Tháinig mé anseo, tar éis a ndeachas tríd, chun bás d‟fháill sa mbaile fá dheire, mar a bhfuaras an chéad fhoghluim agus an chéad ghearrán” 52 (I came here after all I‟ve gone through, to die at home at last, in the place where I got my first teaching and my first horse). There he wrote his beautiful “Slán le Ceol” (Farewell to Music) and on the 25th March 1738 at Alderford, he died. Well, you might ask where did we get the tunes, if as we know, Carolan was blind. The credit for the collection of the vast number of his tunes must go to Edward Bunting, however, other collections were published during the Bard‟s own lifetime. Bunting was engaged by the committee 53 organising the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792 to note the music played by the harpers gathered and with the aid of a translator, to note the songs accompanying the tunes. Notices were placed in the national newspapers (26th April 1792) and ten Irish harpers and one Welsh harper


Brian Maguire married Bridget Nugent of Coolamber, Co. Westmeath. They had five sons, Brian (d. unmarried), Constanine (d. 1739, unmarried), Robert married Elizabeth MacDermott Roe (no issue), Hugh married Lady Cathcart, d. without issue 1763) and Philip married Frances Morres of Co. Tipperary - the house of Temp descends through this line. 47 Otherwise known as Cú Chonnacht Mac Brian” 48 “Ceol na nUasal”, Gael Linn - “Music of the Nobles”. 49 O‟Sullivan maintains this should be Westmeath as she is from Coolamber. 50 “Carolan - The Life Times & Music of an Irish Harper” Vol. 2. page 87. 51 Recalled by Charles O‟Conor from Belanagare - “Carolan‟s Receipt” by Derek Bell 52 “Féile na gCruitiri Béal Feirste 1792” by Gáinne Yeats. Gael Linn, 1980 ISBN 0 86233 025 4 53 Members: Dr. MacDonnell, Robert Bradshaw, Henry Joy (uncle of Henry Joy McCracken) and Robert Simms. (Gráinne Yeats)


© Journal of the Dún Laoghaire Genealogical Society Vol. 8 No. 4 1999
named Williams attended. The Belfast Harp Festival was held on July 11 th, 12th and 13th 1792 with the following Irish harpers54:Denis Hempson, born 1695, Craigmore, Co. Derry, (aged 97 at Belfast) blind, died 1807, Magilligan, Co. Derry Arthur O‟Neill, born, 1734 near Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, (aged 58 at Belfast) blind, died at Dungannon, 1818. Rose Mooney, born 1740, Co. Meath, (aged 52 at Belfast) blind, 1798 at Killala, Co. Mayo. Hugh Higgins, born 1737, Tyrawley, Co. Mayo, (aged 55 at Belfast) blind, died c. 1810. Daniel Black, born circa 1718, Co. Derry, (aged 75 at Belfast) blind, died 1796 at Glendaragh, Co. Antrim Patrick Quin, born Potadown, Co. Armagh, 1745 (aged 47 at Belfast) blind, died c. 1809. Charles Fanning, born at Foxfield, Co. Leitrim, the son of Loughlin Fanning. Employed by a Mr. Pratt of Co. Cavan and aged 56 at the time of the Festival, died c. 1800. Charles Byrne, Co. Leitrim, (aged 80 at Belfast) (d. c. 1810) James Duncan, born 1747, Co. Down, (aged 45 at Belfast), died c. 1800. William Carr, Co. Armagh, aged 15. (disappeared after the Festival) Bunting collected the airs, songs and other pieces at the Festival, travelled around the country thereafter collecting tunes and then finally published his “Ancient Irish Music” 1796, 1809, and “Ancient Music of Ireland” in 1840. 55 He was born in Armagh, his father was English and his mother an O‟Neill of Co. Derry. In 1820 he married a Miss Chapman and moved to Dublin where he became organist of St. George‟s. He died suddenly after the publication of the third volume in 1840 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin. Whilst, the above account is by no means nearly enough to convey the wealth of information available in these sources, it may, hopefully, encourage others to look more closely at these traditional sources to augment the loss of other genealogical information. It is surely possible, that a complete listing of those mentioned in the various works and the information on the poets and harpers, could be viewed as a valuable “Census Substitute” for the period, for too long regarded, as the “Hidden Ireland”. © Michael Merrigan 1999, 2000, 2008

54 55

Information - Gráinne Yeats - Belfast Harp Festival, 1792 Reissued in one volume by Waltons of Dublin in 1969.


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Description: Aspects of Irish history are sometimes hidden from the popular historical narrative because of the linguistic barrier - Gaelic / English (Gaeilge / Béarla) - where the story of the people, by the people, in their own language, from their own tradition and told from their own point of view, has generally been consigned to the realm of "folklore" and thus overlooked by many historians, genealogists and others. Leaving the full story untold....