Way back I did a couple dozen (or more: I lost count) posts on The Not-so-great and the Not-so-good. Out of nowhere, one of those came back to haunt me.
Today a small coincidence caught my attention.
One of the more enjoyable posts — while things are rattling along smoothly — in the Irish Civil Service must be ‘secretary-general to the President’. When things get a bit sticky (a split General Election, perhaps) this will be the Main Man’s go-to guy for ungluing the machinery. An endearing Boss, a civilised environment, the palatial ex-Viceregal Lodge — it’s isn’t surprising that Art O’Leary has stuck the berth for much of the decade.
But that’s not my subject for today. It’s his historic name-sake.
Airt Ó Laoghaire
I’ll work backwards from his tombstone (above) in the burial ground of Kilcrea Friary:
Lo Arthur Leary, generous
Handsome, brave, slain in
His bloom, lies in this humble
grave. Died May 4th, 1773.
Aged 26 years.
The O’Leary family held substantial lands, leased from Lord Kenmare, between Macroom and Gougane Barra — not the best lands, of course, but the most decent available to a Roman Catholic. The family home was Rath Laoi, often represented as ‘Rathleigh’, and now modernised as Raleigh. Those lands would have been bounded by two rivers, the Sullane to the north, and the Lee to the south.
And, also of course, as a Roman Catholic, the young Art had limited-to-none opportunities for education or advancement in Ireland. So, like so many, he offed and entered military service on the continent — the Hussars of the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa. Since I have no image of O’Leary, let’s have the last of the Habsburgs (as right).
A Hungarian Hussar, looking the part! In short order, a captain of Hussars, no less.
Back home with wife and family …
He married in 1767: she was Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, a young widow. Her previous marriage was in her mid-teens: but notice that surname — she would have been the aunt of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. An elopement was involved. The O’Leary household, by the time of his death, would have included two sons, Cornelius and Fiach, with a possible third infant.
According to one version of the story, the horse which was the motive for O’Leary’s murder had been brought by him from his cavalry days.
The cause of the killing
A version has that O’Leary joined the Muskerry Hunt, and out-stripped the field, to be in at the kill and take the fox’s brush. A local magistrate, a Mr Abraham Morris (which some versions render as ‘Morrison’) of Dunkettle, Cork, living at Hanover Hall, was a local worthy of some distinction: a JP by 1757, High Sheriff of County Cork in 1760. He demanded O’Leary’s horse for the payment of five guineas. That was the Penal Law from 1695 — 7 William III c.5: An Act for the better securing the government, by disarming papists; Section 10 —
No papist shall be capable of having or keeping for his use, any horse, gelding or mare of five pounds value. Any protestant who shall make discovery under oath of such horse, shall be authorized with the assistance of a constable, to search for and secure such horse and in case of resistance to break down any door. And any protestant making such discovery and offering five pounds five shillings to the owner of such horse, in the presence of a justice of the peace or chief magistrate, shall receive ownership of such horse as though such horse were bought in the market overt.
This led to acrimony, an exchange of blows, with deployment of horse-whips. Morris convened his fellow magistrates, and O’Leary was declared an outlaw.
On 4th May 1773 Morris had been at Drishane Castle. Returning home, O’Leary was lying in wait near the village of Carriganima. Morris made sure he had armed guards.
One version is that shots were fired. O’Leary, it seems had a pistol. Morris gave an order to fire, and O’Leary was hit below the ear by a musket bullet. It seems O’Leary’s body was first buried in a field, and only removed to Kilcrea some years later.
Caoineadh Airt UÍ Laoghaire
Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill (or someone in her name) composed the long ‘keen’ in his memory. It may well have been delivered at the re-interment at Kilrea:
Mo ghrá go daingean tu! My steadfast love!
Lá dá bhfaca thu When I saw you one day
ag ceann tí an mhargaidh, by the market-house gable
thug mo shúil aire dhuit, my eye gave a look
thug mo chroí taitnearnh duit, my heart shone out
d’éalaíos óm charaid leat I fled with you far
i bhfad ó bhaile leat. from friends and home.