1996 CONTENTS

The Battle of Carrignacurra Castle 1602



There was a curious incident in 1602 which does not feature largely in the History books but is interesting to us as being the first time that Carrignacurra Castle was called on to defend itself in a full blooded battle. The Castle had been built sometime in the period 1450 to 1500, and had so far escaped without use of its formidable defence systems.

These events took place during the quiet period between the fall of Dunboy in June 1602 and the departure by Donal Cam, O'Sullivan Beare on his epic march to Leitrim in the following December.

Donal Cam was not in Dunboy Castle when it was attacked and destroyed by Mountjoy and Carew. This was a wise decision since all the defenders were massacred when the castle fell. It was quite usual for castles to be garrisoned by a small but strong fighting force under a Constable, and this had been the case with Dunboy,  Donal Cam himself being in residence in Ardea Castle about 10 miles over the mountains.


After the fall of Dunboy, Donal Cam gathered together an army of some 500 fighting men, with the object of continuing the war against the English forces. This was somewhat of a forlorn gesture. O'Neill and O'Donnell had fled to Spain and their great army was dispersed. Apart from Donal Cam there were now only two other small armies in the field, the other one in South Munster consisting of the forces of Donogh Maol  and Fineen McCarthy, the sons of Sir Owen McCarthy Reagh. This latter force had been heavily subsidised by a grant of 300 from Owen McEgan, the Bishop of Ross, who had recently landed from Spain.

Dunboy fell on 17th.June and on 1st.July Carew felt sufficiently confident that he had regained control of the situation to stand down the two Companies of the Presidential force commanded by Cormac macDermod McCarthy, Lord Muskerry and John Barry. This took place in Carew's camp which was in Bantry Abbey.

By the 18th.August Carew had changed his mind about Cormac macDermod, and locked him up in Shandon Tower. This was because of a scurrilous accusation made by his nephew, Tadhg McCarthy, accusing Cormac of treason. Carew had not previously had complete trust in Cormac and was quite happy to see him under lock and key once more.

On the 20th.August it was reported that Donal Cam's Army had crossed the border at Leap and were advancing into Carbery. They reached Carrignacurra the next day and made preparations for a siege. The garrison put up a small show of resistance, but their hearts were not in it, and their real support was for the Irish cause. They had been loyal to their liege lord, Cormac, but since he was now imprisoned, there was no longer any need to pretend. After some parleying, and no doubt much sabre rattling, the doors were opened and the garrison joined Donal's Army.

We have to remember that Carrignacurra although often called a "Castle" was in fact a Tower House. It was lived in by a family, and defence was only a second consideration. In 1602 it was the home of Tadhg Meirgeach O'Leary, first cousin of the reigning chieftain, Donnchadh an Ghaorthaidhe of Mannen. Also in residence would be his two known sons, Conchobhar and Dermod, and probably other children we do not know about.

There used to be a small garrison of soldiers also living in and around the Castle. Thus in 1584 when pardons were issued, we learn that Carrignacurra was garrisoned by Art macDermod and Fearganainm O'Leary, two of Tadhg's brothers, and a force of 21 soldiers who are all named. They included men called Moynihan, Healey, Ring, Sullivan, and no fewer than four Cronins, one of whom was a Piper. This was probably fairly typical of the garrison normally available.

That was the end of the Battle of Carrignacurra, but the rest of the story is also interesting.

Donal Cam's Army, now reinforced with the followers of O'Leary, moved on to Dundareirke Castle, which also fell without much persuasion. They then had some fierce resistance at Carrickaphooca Castle. This was owned by Tadhg macOwen McCarthy of Drishane. He was not in residence, but apparently his wife was, because she was amongst those who finally surrendered.

The other point of interest was that Donal was joined at Carrickaphooca by Cormac macDermod who we last heard of as locked up in Shandon Tower. Carew reported on 30th.September that Cormac had escaped from the Tower despite "being in irons and a guard to attend him". Apparently he was lowered down the Castle walls on knotted sheets, and disappeared into the night, which seems remarkable for a man of 72.

Cormac and Donal were now in arms together against the Crown forces with a combined army of some 1500 men. After the capture of Carrickaphooca Castle, and by the 22nd.September, the whole force moved into residence in Macroom Castle, where they now posed a serious threat to Carew. Cormac had however left in Carew's custody in Shandon, his wife and a daughter who were now hostages.

Yet by the 9th.October the entire effort collapsed. Cormac had written to Carew pleading for mercy, and Donal Cam  was on his way home to the fastnesses of Ardea. What had happened to cause such a U-turn. It is difficult for us to understand the feelings which swept the country that week when the news  arrived of the death of O'Donnell in Spain. From Carews cipher notes we learn that O'Donnell had been poisoned by Carew's spy, a certain James Blake of Galway. The effect on the country was electric, and most of the remaining resistance folded up, so important had  been the charisma and influence of O'Donnell.

By Christmas 1602 Wilmot  encamped near Glengarriff with 5000 men, and Donal Cam in despair set off on his march to Leitrim. But that is another story.