(Back To 1998 Contents)
Talk. The Life and Times of Art O Laoghaire.
By Peter O'Leary
1. The events of May 4th.1773.
Art O Laoire was 26, a Captain in the Hungarian Hussars, a Regiment of Empress Marie Therese's Army of Austro-Hungary. On that day in May he was seen in Carriganimma, crossing the footbridge over the River Foherish, and proceeding on horseback along the ridge on the West Bank. He was riding over a small green inch in the townland of Carrigonirtane when a single shot rang out, killing Art instantly. He was thrown to the ground and his horse ran off, returning eventually to Art's house in Rathleigh near Macroom.
Shortly before this, a contingent of soldiers, led by a local Magistrate, Abraham Morris from Hanover Hall, also near Macroom, had lined up along a ditch bordering the pound on the East side of the River. Morris gave the order to fire, and the first shot, which killed Art, came from the musket of a soldier called Green.
That the killing was Official Execution, or maybe Legalised Murder, is supported by three facts.
a. Art had previously been declared an Outlaw under the provisions of the Penal Laws.
b. The soldier Green was decorated for his "Gallantry".
c. Morris himself elected to stand trial by his peers, the local Magistracy, and was found innocent of any crime by those Gentlemen.
In more recent years a small monument has been erected on the spot, which reads
"ar an lathair seo a maraiodh Art O Laoghaire ar an 4u Bealtaine 1773 ar dheis De go raibh se"
(On this spot, Art O Laoire was killed, 4th.May 1773. RIP)
2. The facts leading up to this incident.
Art was the son of Cornelius O Laoire, and grandson of Keadagh O Laoire who leased the Townland of Teergay in Uibh Laoghaire. These lands had been held for many generations by this branch of the O Laoire family. After Keadaghs death, in 1723, Teergay was sold to Dr.Edward Barry. Cornelius at some time prior to 1769 had taken the lease of Rathleigh House, a fine Georgian Farm House, where he lived with his family, including his son Art.
Art was born in 1746. We know nothing about his early life, but he was presumably well educated, and the family lived a comfortable life of Gentleman Farmers, despite the difficulties of doing so, since they were Catholics living during the Penal Times.His father must have been reasonably well off, since he would have had to purchase the commission in the Army for Art, as well as the cost of the journey to Austria. Cornelius acted as Land Agent for the Minhear family of Carrigaphooka, and the lease of Rathleigh House probably formed part of his deal with these Landlords.
These circumstances were uncommon, but not totally unknown. Many such households are described in Daniel Corkerys "Hidden Ireland". One other was that of the O'Connells of Derrynane in the depths of Co.Kerry. It was one of those O'Connells, Eibhlin Dubh, who Art married. They had a romantic meeting in Macroom Town Square, fell in love, and eloped because of the hostility of the O'Connells, but were eventually married.
Colonel Daniel O'Connell writing to his brother, Maurice "Hunting Cap" O'Connell from France in 1773 says " I still foresaw that his violence and ungovernable temper would infallibly lead him into misfortune."
The O'Connells had made a virtue, and a good living, out of the smuggling trade. They did not want any official light cast on their activities, and to them, Art spelled
Trouble. He was apparently a brash young man, proud of his lineage, and his status as on Officer. He certainly considered himself a Gentleman, and had doubts about the similar credentials of those who persecuted him.
When Art met Eibhlin in 1767 she was aged 23 and had been a widow since she was 15. She had been previously married to "old O'Connor of Firies", but he had died after six months of marriage. Eibhlin was the 5th of the 8 daughters of Daniel Mor O'Connell, who also had 5 sons and another 9 children who died young. She was thus an Aunt of Daniel O'Connell the Liberator, who was born in 1775.
Art and Eibhlin were married 19th.December 1767 and continued to live with his Father at Rathleigh House. It would seem that Art returned to Austria for further periods of service between 1767 and his death in 1773. Although we do not know his precise movements, he was home to conceive a second son Fiach in about 1700, and apparently Eibhlin was again pregnant at the time of his death.
There was a history of bad blood between Art and Morris, who was High Sheriff of County Cork in 1771. In that year we have a dramatic account of an encounter between the two men which took place at Hanover Hall on 13th.July. This first notice was placed in the Cork Evening Post on 19th.August by Art stating that he had been charged with different crimes, and was prepared to stand trial at the next Assizes in Cork. This was followed on 7th.October by a claim against Art by Morris, outlining his charges against Art for the incident of the 13th.July. Morris's fellow Magistrates in the Muskerry Constitutional Society in an advertisement 3 days later appear to have agreed with their colleague and judged Art in his absence. He was Outlawed, and a price of 20 guineas put on his head. On 19th.October Art replied through the same Newspaper and defended himself vigorously from the charge, and suggests that judgement should be suspended until he has had a fair trial.
The later event which we have no written evidence for, was a claim against Art under the Penal Laws, which took place in 1773. The circumstances revolve around the fact that Art brought back with him from Austria, his fine brown steed, on which he rode around in full view of the general public. Morris demanded that Art sell him the horse for £5. The Penal Laws, amongst many other humiliating clauses aimed at Catholics, stated that a Catholic may not own a horse of value more than £5, and any Protestant could demand its sale at this price. Art refused the sale, and struck Morris with his horse whip. He also challenged Morris to a duel, which was declined.
Morris clearly was using his position as Magistrate, and at one point High Sheriff, to further his act of revenge against his enemy. He had no difficulty in persuading his fellow Magistrates to support him in his vendetta, and once proclaimed as an outlaw, Art could then be shot at sight quite legally.
It is believed that on that May day in 1773 , Art knew that Morris was on business in Millstreet, set off himself to intercept his enemy on his return, and may well have decided to kill Morris. It is also said that Art refreshed himself in the Inn in Carrignanimma, bought drinks freely, and regaled his audience with tales of what he was going to do to Morris. Also that one of this audience slipped quietly away, rode towards Millstreet to warn Morris. Morris returned to Millstreet and collected the posse of soldiers who went with him to Carriganimma and set up the ambush. These are not proven facts but fit in well with what actually happened that day.
It is said that Art, a professional soldier, judged that he was out of range of the firing squad, and was in fact tormenting them. If that is so, he was sadly wrong. Measurement on the ground shows that he was killed by a musket shot at about 240 yards, so his judgement should have been correct. Perhaps the one shot was a rather unlucky fluke.
There is an interesting theory which throws some light on this unlucky fluke. According to Joe O'Leary of Carriganimma it is widely believed in that area that the first shot which hit Art in the neck, was in fact fired at much closer range, when he and his horse appeared in the view of the soldiers immediately opposite them on the other side of the river, and close to the footbridge. This would be as he came around Joe's farm. The theory is that Art was mortally wounded but stayed in the saddle for another hundred yards, then fell from the horse at the point where the monument is now. He was then left by the soldiers to bleed to death at this spot. This is much more convincing, and means that the fatal musket shot was fired at a range of more like 100 yards. Still a difficult shot, but more possible.
Page 2 Page 3 Page 4