The McCarthy-O'Leary Family of Coomlagane.
Peter O'Leary

This article is a sequel to the story of Denis O'Leary of Millstreet that appeared in Journal No.3. We learned there that the family of  McCarthy-O'Leary was created in 1811 when Helen O'Leary, only daughter of Denis O'Leary of Millstreet, married a widower, Denis McCarthy of Glyn who was living with his three children in Dooneen townland. Helen was a wealthy woman by then, having inherited Coomlagane and other property from her father Denis when he died in 1788.

The McCarthys of Dooneen were themselves descended from the Muskerry McCarthys, and Denis was 6th. in direct descent from Donogh, brother of Sir Dermod McCarthy, 13th.Lord Muskerry (1501-1570). The later McCarthy-O'Learys were a bit confused about their lineage, and various misleading versions appeared in Burkes "Landed Gentry" over the years.

As a result of this marriage union between two of the wealthier lineages in the Millstreet area there was established a new family of Landlords of the same stature as the Wallises of Drishane and the Leaders of Mountleader, which three  between them dominated the local scene during the 19th. century.

Coomlagane seems to have been a more attractive place for the family home than Doonens. Before long we find the McCarthy-O'Learys living in Coomlagane, and the house was enlarged several times until it became a large mansion typical of the Ascendancy culture. 

The house was variously known as "O'Learys", "The Lawn" or simply "The Great House". The property stood at the West end of Millstreet town on the Killarney road, and extended Northwards for about a mile from the main gate lodge. There was a further lodge about a quarter of a mile from Millstreet Railway Station. There was a long avenue from the main lodge to the house, flanked by beech trees, interspersed with the occasional oak, lime, elm or chestnut. The present Town Park of Millstreet now occupies much of the old demesne.

Denis and his new wife Helen, were both quite elderly when they married, and were both dead by 1824. Denis was succeeded as Master of Coomlagane by his eldest son, another Denis (1774-1829) who was married to Leonora Howley from Rickhill. They were married in 1812 and had nine children.

This second Denis died five years later in 1829 and left the property to his eldest son, John  McCarthy-O'Leary (1814-1897). He married in 1839 to Jane daughter of John O'Connell of Greenagh and widow of O'Donoghue of the Glens, who bore him eight children.

This John and most of his sons and grandsons, were sent to England to be educated at Stonyhurst, the Jesuit College in Lancashire.

The O'Learys and the McCarthys were of Gaelic Catholic stock. The Penal laws were now over. The newly created McCarthy-O'Leary family managed to install themselves in the world of wealth, landownership and privilege normally associated with the Protestant Landlord Ascendancy of English extraction. They were joining a new breed of Irishmen such as O'Connell of Derrynane, who were able to lift themselves above their less fortunate countrymen who had to bear the full brunt of poverty, famine and emigration.

John McCarthy-O'Leary was a prominent citizen of the County set. He owned 5,896 acres of land valued at £2,034 pa. He was a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for County Cork. He served as High Sheriff in 1854. He was County Commissioner in the 1890s, and much involved in the building of the new Courthouse in Cork in 1895.

That the family remained Catholic there is no doubt. They continued to worship in the Parish Church in Millstreet, and indeed, unusually, the family had a special pew for themselves, in a side chapel with a direct view onto the High Altar. This has since been converted into the Mortuary Chapel.

Apart from being Landlords they had a long and distinguished Military tradition in the British Army. John's third son, William, was a Colonel in the South Lancashire Regiment and was killed in action in the South African War. William's eldest son John was a Lt.Colonel in the same Regiment, and his brother Heffernan William Denis, known as Donogh, served in the Royal Irish Fusiliers and won the DSO and MC.. Many others of the family had Army careers, and one cousin, William Serle McCarthy-O'Leary was a Captain in the Argentinian Navy.

Meanwhile for about 100 years they were Landlords of one third of the farms around Millstreet. Were they good or bad Landlords? The records are silent on this point. Perhaps they were better than most, in that there is no local folklore of hangings or other mistreatment. The only eviction we know about was in fact countermanded as a result of a request from the Altar given by the Parish Priest, Fr.McGinn.

Of course, the cosy era of house parties, hunting, shoots, salmon fishing and other delights of the Landlord class had to come to an end. The Wyndham Acts caused the loss of the land by compulsory purchase by the tenants, although the family continued to live in the Great House until the early 1920s. Colonel William's son, Lt.Colonel John McCarthy-O'Leary succeeded to the property on the death of his father in 1900, and his sister, Molly later owned the house. She died in the 1970s.

The many descendants of the McCarthy-O'Learys were scattered around the World, and we do not know of any in the male line who remained in Ireland. There were some of them in London, and in the British Coloni

es. And there are still some in Ireland in the female line of descent, but no longer called McCarthy-O'Leary.

Where are they all now? Perhaps one of your readers will be able to throw some light on this question.