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The Life and Times of Art O Laoghaire. Start Click Here
7. What was it all about?
It is necessary, at this point, to consider the wider aspects of the Judicial Murder of Art O Laoire in 1773.
Was this, as it is often depicted, merely the petty revenge of a rather mean, pompous and self important member of the Protestant Ascendancy, over a member of the Catholic landowning class who showed a bit more spirit than most?
This view probably does not take full account of the situation of the time. This aspect is thoroughly dealt with by Professor Cullen of TCD in his article in Cork History and Society entitled "The Blackwater Catholics and County Cork Society and Politics in the 18th. century". Anyone who really wants to understand this, and other similar incidents should read Professor Cullens article in full. I will only refer to a few points from that article which are most relevant.
a. The similarity between the Judicial Murders of James Cotter (1720), Morty og O Sullivan (1754), and Art O Laoire (1773).
b. A similar bloody campaign against recruiting officers for the Irish Brigade including the execution of Denis Dunne, Thomas Herlihy, and Denis McCarthy, Dillon MacNamara and the two Sheehy brothers plus three minor Catholic gentlemen, all in the period 1749-1766
c. The similar but less bloody driving out of the country of the Hennessys (1765) and the Springhouse McCarthys (1776).
d. A similar campaign against the Nagle families which resulted in all conforming to the Protestant religion.
e. The fact that all these took place in Co.Cork and South Co.Tipperary.
f. There was at this time a move throughout most of the Country towards a more reasonable treatment of Catholics, which eventually led to the Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1793.
These, apart from a realisation that Catholics might be human beings also, was part of a Political movement headed by Burke, moving towards Emancipation, and gradually obtaining widespread support amongst the Protestant Ascendancy.
g. As usual in similar situations, this trend was strongly opposed by a gradually reducing but strong Political wing which was Conservative, Backward looking, Papist hating, Protestant supporting, and Land owning motivated. This was led in Parliament by Lord Shannon, and strongly supported in his home territory of Co.Cork.
Cullen is suggesting that Art's death was merely one of a number of events towards the later part of the 18th. c. which were Political, regressive, and the last kick, as it were of the Protestant landowning, anti-Papist rump, which had it's centre in Co.Cork, and which was acting against the trend in the Country as a whole.
This is typical of the backlash in the final phases of an insupportable tyranny, and could be likened to similar situations in the North of Ireland in recent years
It is interesting to note that the Muskerry Constitutional Society was set up in July 1771, and consisted of about 50 Gentlemen, all Magistrates and/or Landowners in Co.Cork. It's first action was the indictment and outlawing of Art O Laoire in August 1771 on very dubious legal grounds. Cornelius was a Landlord like themselves, albeit a Catholic. His son Art had publicly advertised that he was prepared to appear before the next Assizes to have the matters settled by Law. The rather arbitrary Outlawing, presumably based on the possibility that one of their Members had been humiliated by Art, meant that one of their Members, the Complainant in fact, was enabled to take the Law into his own hands, which he did in May1773.
8. The genealogy of Art O Laoire.
A look at the Descent of Art O Laoire shows that he was a direct descendant of Conchobhar O Laoire of Mannen, who was Chieftain of Uibh Laoghaire up to 1572. The direct lineal descendant in 1773 was Denis O Laoire of Coomlagane near Millstreet, who was known in Millstreet as "O Leary." Art was 5th. cousin to Denis. This Denis was an even more substantial Land owner than Cornelius, and was a Magistrate. Ironically he appears on the list of Members of the Muskerry Constitutional Society at it's formation in 1771, as does Tim O Laoire of Glasheen in Uibh Laoghaire.
There is no substance in the belief that he was of the Ballymurphy O Laoire family. This family came from Kileen in Co.Kerry where they were tenants of Lord Kenmare. One Cornelius O Laoire of Ballymurphy, d.1743, was also buried in Kilcrea. Cornelius father of Art was still alive in 1769. Just because he was buried in the same cemetery does not make him a relative.
9. The family descended from Art.
The chart "Descendants of Art O Laoire" brings us down to the present time. Eibhlin Dubh had two children at the time of Art's death, and was pregnant. This third child does not seem to have survived, and we have no knowledge of Fiach and his subsequent history.
Their first son Cornelius was born August 25th. 1768, and sent to Paris for education 1789-91. He became a Captain in the Gardes Francais. Married 1. Rebecca Gentleman. 2.Mary Purcell 1814. 3. Hanna Purcell 1831 at Gretna Green. He trained as a Barrister. Lived in Cork City from 1814 to 1817, then at Dromore House, Duhallow. Died August 20th. 1846.
It was claimed by O Neill Daunt that Cornelius was brought up as a Protestant, and Fiach as a Catholic, and this was a not uncommon method of retaining land in the family. "That man's son was the father of two fine boys, he brought up one of them a Protestant and the other a Catholic. The poor children early showed the belligerent spirit of religious hostility. They were always squabbling. The Catholic brother would say "we'll get Emancipation in spite of you" "No, you rascal, " the Protestant brother would answer, "We'll keep our foot upon your necks".
Cornelius presided at a meeting of Roman Catholics held in the South Parish Chapel in 1814, so may have reverted to Catholicism by that date.
Cornelius and Mary produced three sons, Cornelius Ferdinand Purcell born October 6th.1815, Goodwin Richard Purcell born March 19th.1817, and Arthur.(date unknown).
It is a curious fact that when Cornelius wrote a short account of his life in a family bible at Manch House, he failed to mention his first wife Rebecca, or his third son Arthur. The account was written in Paris in October 1827. There must remain some doubt as to the authenticity of these two members of the family, although it is possible that Arthur was born after this date. Mary died in January 1830.
CFP O Leary was baptised, confirmed and brought up as a Protestant. He was sent to Paris in 1825 to be educated. He returned to Ireland, and was called to the Bar where he took the special oath proscribed for Catholics.
In 1843 he assisted Daniel O Connell in his campaign for Reform, and attended one of the Monster Meetings.
The only record we have of him practising as a Barrister was in a case of Sullivan v. Healey, in Bantry in 1845. In the course of this case he described himself as "a good Catholic".
He died, still only 31 and unmarried, in 1846 at Dromore.
The second son, GRP O Leary was also sent to Paris for education at the age of 5. He must have been a precocious child, because he matriculated for TCD at 13 and graduated at 16! He then spent many years attending Universities in different parts of Europe, acquiring several languages, and a clutch of degrees in Medicine. In 1857 he was appointed Professor of Materia Medica at Queens College, Cork. He married Helena Sugrue in 1849, and they had no children. He died in 1876 at the home of his brother in law at Chatsworth, and his body was brought back to Kilcrea Abbey, where he was buried in the same tomb as his grandfather, Art O Laoire.
He was a member of the Cork Archaeological and Historical Society, and apparently required the members to address him and his wife as "The O Leary and Madame O'Leary", a title to which he had no good claim.
He did however have another claim to fame. When Prussia and Austria united to attack Denmark, he wrote to the King of Denmark offering to bring to his service 100 Irishmen, mounted and accoutred at their own expense. This offer was not taken up, but O Leary was awarded the Order of Danneborg, the only other possessor in the UK being the Prince of Wales.
The three of them seem to have steered a course in their religious affiliations, to suit circumstances at the time, without very much worry, and probably to their pecuniary benefit.
There are no known living O'Leary descendants of Art O Laoire. There is however a lineal descendant through the distaff side, Mr.Kenneth Barnes, who lives in Cork City and is a lecturer at the Crawford Institute.
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