The Last O'Leary Chieftain. Donal MacArt (1575 -1657) by Peter O'Leary.
Donal MacArt was the last elected chieftain of the O'Leary people. Raised to this office in 1638, he survived as effective and fully operating chieftain until the 10 years war, (1640-1650), and the Cromwellian settlement which followed it. This settlement destroyed most of the ancient Gaelic system, including the election and rule of the chieftains. Even after the return of King Charles ll in 1660, there was no full revival of the old systems, and the Williamite war of 1689 finally put an end to all the former Gaelic traditions including the demise of the O'Leary and other chieftainries.
Donal - born in 1575:
Donal was born in 1575 in Uibh Laoghaire. His father was Art O Laoghaire of Carrignaneelagh. and his wife, Margaret Ní Mhoroghie of Currabig. Donal was only the third son. His father, the eldest son of the previous chieftain, Conchobhar of Mannen, had succeeded to the chieftaincy three years previously in 1572, and at his election there was the usual redistribution of land which gave him the temporary ownership of a huge piece of property, including what had now become the chieftains tower house in Carrignaneelagh.
The eldest son of Art and Margaret, named Tadhg, was one of the victims of the terrible slaughter of the O'Learys at the hands of the MacCarthy Maol Reaghs and the O'Crowleys at the cattle raid and "battle" of Ahakeera in 1601.
Art's second son, Conchobhar, also died some time between 1612 and 1620, leaving the third son, Donal as the heir.
Art deposed on the grounds of "incapacity":
In 1593 Art was deposed from his chieftainry, on the grounds of "incapacity". This may have meant sickness, but Art was in his 60s, a mild and considerate man, and it is more likely that he did not conform to the aggressive military requirements which Hugh O'Neill was demanding from the Gaelic peoples in preparation for the great war to finally drive out the English usurpers.
Art was succeeded as O'Leary by his younger brother, Amhlaoibh Ruadh, a red haired, aggressive and fiery leader much more in tune with the O'Neill army. Unfortunately his peppery nature proved his undoing. He was also killed at Ahakeera leading his men into battle against MacCarthy Maol. To be slain in this manner, without the consent of the Queen's President, would have resulted in the confiscation of all O'Leary lands, so a little deception was agreed upon. It was put about that Amhlaoich had been wounded in the battle, and some time later it was announced that he had died a natural death.
So later in the year of 1601 the O'Learys met again to elect a new chieftain, and this time it was the turn of the fourth son of Conchobhar of Mannen, Donnchadh an Ghaorthaidh, who was chosen and who received the white rod from Cormac macDermod MacCarthy of Blarney and Macroom, liege lord of the O'Learys.
Donnchadh had a long and successful time as chieftain, living until 1638, and dying just in time to avoid the ten years war. On his election he moved into the old O'Leary stronghold of Mannen, where Inchigeelagh National School now stands. This was a large ringfort and house which had been the home of O'Leary in earlier times up to the 15th.c. when the first tower house was built at Carrignacurra.
Surrender and Regrant:
An odd situation had arisen as a result of "Surrender and Regrant". This English imposed law was intended to weaken the Gaelic order, and was widely welcomed by chieftains who only saw in it a means of strengthening their own branch of the family. The tower houses became the personal property of the incumbent at the time, whereas previously, like all property, they had been owned by the Clan in general, and occupied by the current chieftain and his tanaiste.
After the "Composition of 1593" those in occupancy of a tower house became its legal owner. So when Donnchadh was elected in 1601, his cousins, Conchobhar macArt and Tadhg Dermod Meirgeach, hung on grimly to their tower houses at Carrignaneelagh and Carrignacurra, leaving Donnchadh without this symbol of his authority.
Tower House in Dromcarra:
This position was eventually corrected by Donnchadh building himself a new tower house on his land at Dromcarra. It was smaller than the other two, but no doubt honour was satisfied. The tower house in Dromcarra was completed in 1625, and stood, albeit in ruins, until 1966 when it was "knocked" by its owner because he deemed it to be unsafe.
So far in our story it has seemed that the chieftaincy of the O'Learys had become hereditary as with many other families. That this was not so was proved in 1638 when Donnchadh died and the clan reverted to a previous line and elected his first cousin, Donal macArt. This despite the fact that Donnchadh had a further brother, Diarmaid Ruadh, and two sons, Amhlaoich of Dromcarra and Conchobhar of East Graigue, who were passed over.
Donal was 63 when he achieved the chieftaincy. He then became the lord of 13 townlands and some 3,000 acres of the best land in the Parish, mostly on the North Eastern strip lying to the South of the River Toon. His income from rentals was £30 pa. which would be the equivalent of about £60,000 in todays money.
But there were dark clouds on the horizen. Three years later, in 1641, there was a massive and universal uprising throughout the Country. The opportunity had come for all Irishmen, Gaelic and Anglo-Norman, to unite against English rule, by supporting an English King, Charles 1 against the forces of his Parliament, later to be lead by the infamous Cromwell.
As the storm clouds were gathering in 1641, popular leaders were established in each area, and Lord Muskerry, Donoch MacCarthy of Blarney, raised the flag in his territory. He started by summonsing a meeting to Blarney castle of delegates from each sept who could provide men and horses for the new army to be created. The newly created O'Leary, Donal went along, and took with him his tanaiste, Conchobhar Meirgeach of Carrignacurra. Conchobhar seems to have been the more dynamic, and made more impact on the meeting. Reports of the occasion describe them as "Conor, O'Leary of Carrignacurra, and his brother Daniel". They were in fact second cousins, and Donal was of course the senior.
The united front was to be represented in the Country at large, by the Confederation, a gathering of representatives of all the people, which initially met in Kilkenny in May 1642. Donal is mentioned amongst the delegates at the General Assembly, where he was representing the O Learys.
Sadly for Ireland the Confederation was not a success, as factions arose and no common agreement could be found.between the splinter groups. Whilst the supporters of O'Neill, Rinuccini, Preston, Ormonde etc. squabbled amongst themselves, the Parliamentary army in England were slowly but surely grinding the Kings armies to defeat, and eventually the King to the gallows. Then this seasoned and experienced army were turned on Ireland, under their General, Cromwell, to wreak vengeance for the uprising, and to confiscate the land of all Irishmen, Gaelic or Anglo-Norman, and redistribute it amongst the unpaid troopers and the Adventurers who had put up the money for weapons.
"Sent to Connacht":
In actual fact only the large landowners, and heads of clans, were "sent to Connacht", the smaller tenant farmers being required to remain as labourers on the land. Donal was amongst them, and at the age of 80 and accompanied by his second son , Dermod, was transplanted in 1655 to Ballymacdonellane in County Clare. His third son, Tadhg was sent to Killclogher in County Clare where he appears as a titulado in 1659.
Dermod, the second son featured in a curious incident in 1641 at the start of the war. Large numbers of dispossessed English settlers were trying to get back to England with such of their property as they could carry. O'Donovan of Castle Donovan had arranged a convoy to escort one of these parties, and Dermod was one of the escorting officers. After the war he was accused, with others, of robbing some of the settlers. They were tried but there was insufficient evidence and no convictions.
Meanwhile in Uibh Laoghaire the lands of the O'Learys were divided up and awarded to soldiers as back pay. The other landowners could stay on as tenants under the new owners or as labourers. Some did not chose to do either, and large gangs of "Tories" or landless men, gathered in the mountains around Gougane, including many O'Learys but none that we know from Donal MacArt's family.
Old Donal died in Connacht some time between 1655 and the Restoration in 1660. Historians have had considerable confusion about these events. They have overlooked the fact that Donal's eldest son was also called Donal, and have tended to merge the two men into one, thus making the life span of the elder Donal stretch off into the 1689 period when he would have been an active 114 had he survived.
In 1660 when Charles ll was restored to his late father's throne, there was a general belief that the land would now revert to its previous ownership. The owners in 1641, or in many cases their sons, flocked back to their patrimony in 1660. Amongst these was "young" Donal óg, now himself aged 55, who moved into his fathers lands of Gortsmorane, Kilbarry, Carrignaneelagh etc. The tower house had been garrisoned during the occupation by Cromwellian troops, but they had "slighted" it on leaving. Nevertheless it was capable of being lived in.
The true facts turned out to be very different. Charles had largely been restored by Protestant Parliamentary leaders such as Monk, and they had obtained guarantees of continued ownership of their ill-gotten lands. Charles, like most of the Stuarts was a weak man who could not take difficult decisions like this. The Cromwellian settlement largely remained, and his loyal Royalist followers had to suffer, whilst his previous enemies gained.
Donal óg had moved into his fathers old lands, and in 1677 he managed to obtain a 99 years lease of these lands from their new owner, no other than Lord Muskerry. This sort of thing was possible because most of the soldiers did not actually want to live in Ireland but only to turn their property into cash and return whence they came. And Lord Muskerry was one of the few great Lords who were exempted from the general situation and had their properties restored to them.
Twenty nine short years after, all this changed. Once more the Irish people supported a Stuart King in his struggle against his own people, and once more they lost. This time it was James ll, Charles brother, and this time they were supporting a Catholic King who, they thought, would right all the Protestant wrongs. But James lost the military contest with William, and fled to France deserting his Catholic Irish supporters.
Donal óg, who was born in about 1605, did not live to see this latest disaster. In 1700 the Land Court at Chichester House examined all the tenancies and most, including his, were declared unsound and were forfeited to the Crown. The freeholds of the lands of Uibh Laoghaire were granted to the Hollow Sword Blade Company to settle their debts for financing the war. A few tenancies were validated, but most went to new tenants of the choosing of the new landlords. By and large these were not O'Learys, who were regarded with suspicion that they might get above themselves.
Donal óg and his eldest son, Arthur, were never elected as chieftains, but they and their successors called themselves "O'Leary", and were regarded as such by the local people in the Milstreet area.. Arthur was a Captain in King James' army in 1689. He went to Millstreet with his sister Juliana, where she was married to old Colonel Owen MacCarthy of Drishane, and the family stayed there for three further generations until Denis O'Leary could only produce one heir, his daughter Helen, thus bringing this branch to an end.