The O’Leary’s One Thousand years Ago

and the origins of the Parish Of Uibh Laoghaire



by Peter O'Leary




Rosscarbery is a pretty little town, nay a City, in West Cork, on the coast and lying between Clonakilty and Ballydehob. It’s population is less than 1000 and there is little by way of Industry or Tourism attractions. It is a City because the See of Ross Diocese has always been there, and consequently it has a Cathedral. The Church of Ireland retains the Cathedral, but has long since joined the Diocese with Cork and Cloyne. The Catholic Church abandoned Rosscarbery as the seat of it’s Bishop which was moved to Skibbereen, and it likewise joined the Diocese of Ross with Cork.

The interest to our Parish of Uibh Laoghaire in this lovely City of Rosscarbery is that it was the place which 1000 years ago, most of our local families came from. Their dramatic move to Uibh Laoghaire will be described later, but first let us consider life for the O’Learys and their associated families as it was during the First Millenium. AD.

The Tribe who occupied most of Carbery from Kinsale to Bantry, were Erainn people called the Corcu Loigde (see article about The Old Tribes of Munster). Towards the end of the 2nd century AD this Tribe produced a king called Luy Maccon who became High King of Ireland for a period of 30 years ended in 212 AD. His eldest son continued to rule over the Corcu Loigde and his descendants were the O’Driscolls. Luy’s 5th. son, Fothac Canaan, founded a family which became one of the sub-kings under the O’Driscolls, and eventually took the surname of O’Leary. As a Tribe they were known as the Ui Laoghaire long before the introduction of surnames. These Ui Laoghaire were chieftains of the Tuath Ruis or Tuath in Dolaich, which covered an area of about 40 sq. miles around the City of Rosscarbery. Their main Residence was the ringfort of Burgatia, and nearby they founded a Monastery which later became a well known seat of Learning, a University, and a Bishopric. The Diocese of Ross was upheld at the Synods of the 12th.c. and the O’Learys became the Hereditary Wardens of the Monastery and University.

All this comfortable lifestyle was shattered in the 12th century due to the upheavals caused by the arrival of the Anglo-Norman invasion. The powerful Norman Lords swept across the country seeking the best land and seizing it. These included the Desmond FitzGeralds and their supporters who targeted the lands of Limerick County. This caused the families of Collins and O’Donovan to forsake their ancient territories in Limerick and seek their fortunes further South in Carbery, invited there by the O’Mahoneys who at that time were at war with their distant cousins the O’Donoghues.

The final outcome of all these upheavals was that the Collins and O’Donovans moved down to Carbery, the O’Donoghues moved up to Glen Fesk and Killarney, and the O’Learys moved up to Uibh Laoghaire where they have remained ever since. With them came many of their followers including the Twomeys, Cronins and Lynches who had all been natives of South Carbery.

These events, according to John O’Donovan in his History of the O’Donovan Clan, took place in 1196. It certainly must have been about this date and after the Invasion by the Anglo-Normans which started in 1169. It is probably reasonable to accept the 1196 date since we have no other evidence for or against.

The groundwork for this move took place several years earlier. The O’Mahoneys and the O’Donoghues were descended from the same tribe, the Ui Eachach, a branch of the Eoganachta of Cashel. They had come down from Cashel in the 6th century and had divided the territory of North Carbery between them, the Cineal Aodh (O’Mahoneys) taking the Eastern portion around modern Kinelmeaky and Kinelea, with the Cineal Laoghaire (O’Donoghue) holding the Western portion from about Coppeen to Drimoleague.

The territory of the Cineal Laoghaire was known as Uibh Laoghaire. This name was given to the whole of the North West part of Carbery and it included of course our Parish which was later to be known by the same name.

Sometime in the 10th century a sub-king of the Cineal Laoghaire called Srufan gave three Tuatha to his kinsmen in the West when he retired from the World into a Monastery. These three Tuatha were our own Parish which has ever since been internally divided into three parts, ie. the Inchigeelagh area, the Ballingeary area, and the area South of the Mountains, or Coolmountain in Carbery.

The two Clans lived in peace for about 500 years but came to blows after the battle of Clontarf in 1014. They fought a battle at Maghcliath which was won by the O’Mahoneys. The O’Donoghues fought on for many years, but eventually decided to move, gave up their territory of Uibh Laoghaire and moved to Glen Fesk. The O’Mahoneys took over the main part of Uibh Laoghaire, and the Western portion eventually became O’Mahoney an Oir (Western).

The O’Learys from Carbery had meanwhile started to occupy the lands along the River Lee which had been given to them by Srufan. By 1196 the O’Learys had completed their move to the new and much smaller Uibh Laoghaire by the River Lee.

In the 12th. and 13th.c,. the position changed again when the great McCarthy families took over Carbery (McCarthy Reagh) and Muskerry (McCarthy Muskerry). These moves made huge inroads into the O’Mahoney and other territories, but left the O’Learys more or less unscathed in their mountain retreat now called Uibh Laoghaire.

The first Millenium of the Christian era was spent by the our ancestors in Rosscarbery. The second Millenium was spent in Uibh Laoghaire. Our Millenium Celebrations span two Millenia unlike many who are not so fortunate as to know their past History in such detail.