People Archive

An tAthair Eoghan O Caoimh

Monday, April 15th, 2013

The Penal Laws were passed by the English parliament from the end of the 17th. Century onwards in what was to be the final solution in the process to destroy the Catholic Church in Ireland, a project which had begun in the reigns of Elizabeth 1 and James 1.   At the beginning of the 18th. Century one of the penal laws that the English Parliament passed included a provision that all ‘ Popish Parish Priests’ had to be registered. Failure to do so would mean immediate arrest and charges of plotting against the civil and religious authority of the King or Queen as the case might be – a crime which carried the death penalty. The registered priest was required to be ‘ of peaceable behaviour and not to depart out of the county where his abode lay’.

In addition two persons had to give a surety of £50 each to guarantee that the priest would be of good behaviour according to the terms of the Act of Parliament. This was a considerable sum of money at the time. The register for Cork county compiled in 1704 states that Owen Keefe ‘pretended ‘to be parish priest of Clonfert as the Parish of Newmarket was then called. His guarantors, who entered into a bond of £50 each on his behalf., were Manus O Keefe of Knocknageeha in the parish of Cullen and Denis O Callaghan of Lismaelcunnin, west of Kanturk, both of whom must have been men of substance in the locality. It is probable that this Denis O Callaghan was a protestant.  Lismaelcunnin seems to have been previously connected with the MacAuliffes. Manus had also changed religion and as a result held on to O’Keeffe lands in the Cullen area..This branch of the family claimed to belong to The O Keefes of Dromach, the principal family of the O Keefe clan in Dúthalla. The O’Keeffes of Knocknageeha also secured possession of lands east of Newmarket in a district called Cnoc Leacóg ( the hill of the flagstones? ) which they renamed Mountkeefe. In the register Father Owen, unlike his guarantor is stripped of the ‘O’ in his name but it is interesting that he has the patronage of two members of Dúthalla Gaelic families suggesting that the old Gaelic Aristocracy still had some standing and authority in Dúthalla.

Father Owen was said to be 50 years of age at this time which means that he was born in 1654. He is said to have been living in Garraunawarrig but the location of any mass-house is not mentioned. However, M. J. Bowman in his invaluable book The Place Names and Antiquities of the Barony of Duhallow referring to the town land of Garraunawarrig Upper mentions that there was ‘a church site and burial ground in Mr. Kenny’s land.’ He adds that ‘ No sign of either are there now.’ We must remember that at this time Catholic buildings of any size or substance had been taken over by the Church of England which was the official state religion. The Catholics would have been only allowed to celebrate their faith in Mass houses of a temporary nature or in the open air at Mass rocks or other hidden sites. There must have been several Mass sites in the parish of Confert at this time as it included the modern parishes of Newmarket, Kanturk and Meelin/Rockchapel.

As Catholic seminaries were not allowed in Ireland at this time Fr. Owen was prepared for the priesthood in the Irish College at Toulouse and he was ordained there by the bishop of Sarlat in1679. The Irish College in Toulouse was one of the smaller Irish colleges on the continent. It was founded at the beginning of the 17th. Century and was supported at first by an endowment from Anne of Austria and this was confirmed by her son Louis XIV in 1659. This royal patronage was eventually to lead to the seizure of the college by the French revolutionaries in 1793. After the republic was declared in 1792 the government set out to remove all traces of royalty and of the old regime. As the church was seen to have been a supporter of the monarchy church property was confiscated and sold, seminaries were closed and priests who did not flee before the onslaught were often put to death on the guillotine charged with opposing the revolution. The small number of priests in Toulouse seem to have escaped with their lives but to day there is no trace of the seminary in in the city although the site is known to have been at the junction of Rue de la Bastide and Rue Valade.

What else is known about Father Eoghan? Where was he born? When did he die? Where is he buried? Information on priests in Penal times is difficult to come by for obvious reasons. They were part of a hidden Ireland that was despised and regarded with deep suspicion by the authorities,especially those who had been trained in the continent and who had returned on what the Church at this time called, the Irish Mission. Those who came from France would have been the subject of special attention as this country was considered, at the time,to be England’s greatest enemy.  The first trace we have of him, apart from the register, is a short verse in a manuscript ( Egerton 150) that is held in the British Library.This lighthearted verse concerns four O’Keeffe priests, all called Eoghan, who lived in Dúthalla in the early part of the 18th. Century and it was in all probability composed by one of them. The composer is most likely to have been the Eoghan O Caoimh who was parish priest of Doneraile at the beginning of the 18th. Century. He died in 1726. He was a famous Gaelic scholar and poet and was born at Glenville near Fermoy in1656 in the ancient territory of the O Keeffe clan. The verse is as follows with a literal translation into English

Eoghan seanda ó Cheann Toirc is sine den bhuíon

Is Eoghan sanntach ó cheantar Chuilinn Uí Chaoimh

Eoghan crannda nach ramharphluic ó iomad na dí

Is Eoghan manntach sa dhrandal ag druidim le haois.


Ancient Eoghan from Kanturk is the eldest of the group

And greedy Eoghan from the Cullen area

Withered Eoghan who is not fat jowled from too much drink

And Eoghan gapped in the gums who is getting old.

We can assume that Eoghan from Kanturk is the priest who was named as parish priest of Clonfert in 1704. Can we assume that when this verse was composed that he was living in Kanturk? That he was the oldest of the group also fits in as he was two years older than the poet, father Eoghan the parish priest of Donraile, who is also as he states ‘ ag druidim le haois’

Sources: Archivium Vol.1 1912.The Irish Seminary in Toulouse by Patrick Boyle C.M. JCHAS. Ser.2 Vol. LIX. 1954, pp. 22-33.

Seamus O’Croinin

John Philpott Curran

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

John Philpott Curran, the great Irish barrister and orator, was born on the 24th of July 1750 in Main Street, Newmarket. His father James was a local judge for minor affairs for the Manor area of Newmarket.

Curran went to the local Protestant school, where his intellectual ability was spotted by the parson, Rev. Nathaniel Boyse, who arranged to have Curran educated at Midleton, County Cork. He studied law at Trinity College, Dublin (he was described as “the wildest, wittiest, dreamiest student”) and continued his legal studies in London at King’s Inns and the Middle Temple. He was called to the Irish bar in 1775.

His occasional tendency of challenging people to duels (he fought five in all) rather than compromise his values, along with his skilful oratory, quick wit and his championing of popular Irish causes such as Catholic Emancipation, made him one of the most popular lawyers in Ireland. He also could speak Irish, still the language of the majority at that time. He wrote a large amount of humorous and romantic poetry. Including The Deserter’s Meditation below (which is also known as Let Us Be Merry Before We Go). This poem is considered to be the first poem in English that used the vowel format characteristic of Irish Language poetry. It is closely based on the popular drinking song Preab san Ól and is sung to the air of that song.:

” If sadly thinking, with spirits sinking,
Could more than drinking my cares compose,
A cure for sorrow my sighs would borrow
And hope tomorrow would end my woes.
But as in wailing there’s naught availing
And Death unfailing will strike the blow
And for that reason, and for a season,
Let us be merry before we go.

To joy a stranger, a wayworn ranger,
In every danger my course of I’ve run
Now hope all ending, and death befriending,
His last aid lending, my cares are done.
No more a rover, or hapless lover,
My griefs are over — my glass runs low;
Then for that reason, and for a season,
Let us be merry before we go.”

In 1774 he married Sarah Creagh of Newmarket. Among his children were Sarah, the beloved of Robert Emmet; Amelia, an artist whose painting of Percy Byrshe Shelley hangs in the National Art Gallery in London; and Gertrude, a child musical prodigy who at 12 years of age tumbled to her death from an upstairs window in their house in the Priory, Rathfarnham. Curran was so attached to his little daughter that he, controversially, had her buried in the grounds so that he could observe her grave from his study window.  (Picture below shows the door knocker from priory house)  

One of Curran’s more notable cases was that of Father Neale and Lord Doneraile in 1780. Father Neale, an elderly Catholic priest in County Cork, criticised an adulterous parishioner, whose sister was mistress to Lord Doneraile, a Protestant landlord. Doneraile demanded that Neale recant his criticism of his mistress’ brother. When the priest stood by his principles, Doneraile horse-whipped him, confident that a jury would not convict a Protestant on charges brought forward by a Catholic. Curran who had a fearless and passionate belief in justice represented the priest and won over the jury by setting aside the issue of religion. The jury awarded Curran’s client 30 guineas. Doneraile challenged Curran to a duel, in which Doneraile fired and missed. Curran declined to fire.

In 1798, he defended the leaders of the United Irishmen, the most notable being Wolfe Tone, Napper Tandy and the Sheares Brothers. He stood firm in the face of a government campaign of intimidation and terror and continued to defend the United men despite bought and biased judges, packed juries and government agents called as false witnesses. He was a real threat in the eyes of the authorities. His support for the united Irishmen was, however tempered by the bloodshed and social mayhem he saw during visits to France during the Revolution and he became convinced that violence was not the way to right Ireland’s wrongs. When Emmet’s rising took place it provided the government with the opportunity to finally silence Curran. Letters between Emmet and Curran’s daughter had been intercepted and a raid on his house while he was absent finally forced hm to capitulate and accept a minor government appointment. He refused to defend Emmet and sent Sarah to Quaker friends of his in Cork where he felt she would be safe. 

Started in 1780, his drinking club The Order of St. Patrick also included Catholic members along with liberal lawyers (who then had to be Protestant). They were called The Monks of the Screw, as they appreciated wine and corkscrews. Curran was its Prior and consequently named his Rathfarnham home “The Priory”.

On the 14th of October 1817, he collapsed and died a broken man, and was buried in London. In 1834 his body was exhumed and reintered in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Elizabeth Aldworth

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Elizabeth Aldworth (1695-1775), born the Hon. Elizabeth St. Leger, was known as “The Lady Freemason”, the only woman ever to be initiated into Regular Freemasonry.

She was the daughter of Arthur St. Leger, 1st Viscount Doneraile and 1st Baron Kilmayden of Doneraile Court, County Cork, Ireland. She was married in 1713 to Richard Aldworth.

There was a plaque erected at the new St. Finbarre’s Cathedral by the Masons of Cork, which reads:

In Pious Memory of

The Honorable
Wife of
Of Newmarket Court, Co. Cork, Esq.,
Daughter of
Her Remains Lie Close to This Spot.
Born 1695, Died 1775.
Initiated into Masonry in
Lodge No. 44, at Doneraile Court
In this County, A.D. 1712

Sir Richard Aldworth

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Among the funeral certificates in the Herald’s College is the following:

“Sir Richard Aldworth of Newmarket Co. Cork. Knt, Provost Marshal of Prov. of Munster. dec. at Dublin 21 June 1629. He married Anne Merwin, no issue, bur. in Christ Church Newmarket”

Dr. William Maziere Brady

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

An extract from ‘Seven Cork Clerical Writers’ by James Coleman J.C.H.A.S Vol 9 1903 about Dr. William Maziere Brady who was a Vicar of Clonfert (Newmarket) in the late 1800s:

“Dr. William Maziere Brady, Cavalier of the order of Pius IX and Private Chamberlain to his holiness Leo XIII. Born in Dublin January 8th 1825, died in Rome March 19th 1894.

In 1861 Dr. Brady became Vicar of Clonfert, Co. Cork. The protestant population of the parish was 142 at this time. The annual income was £452 less a curates stipend. It was during this time as vicar of Clonfert that he published “Clerical and Parochial Records of Cork, Cloyne and Ross” (Dublin, Alexander Thom, 1863). In 1873 he was received into the Catholic church by Monsignor Kirby, rector of the Irish College of Rome. He was a staunch unionist in politics and was correspondent of the “Tablet” while in Rome”