Adapted from the essay “A Dead Man in Carriganorthane” by James O’Leary in ‘A Time that Was in Clondrohid, Macroom, Millstreet, Kilnamartyra and Ballyvourney’, edited by Denis O’Connell
Art Ó Laoghaire was shot in an inch in Carriganorthane on the 4th of May 1773. The fact that his exact place and manner of death is still known is due to the work of his wife Eibhlín rather than anything he did himself. Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill who was an aunt of Daniel O’Connell the Liberator was born at Derrynane in County Kerry. She was married in a made match at an early age to an old man in North Kerry. However he didn’t last the pace and he died shortly afterwards. Some time afterwards, Eileen was travelling with her sister in a horse coach to Cork which stopped in Macroom. She saw this fellow on a white horse dressed in an officers uniform of the Austrian army and in modern day terminology, thought he was a fine thing. This first acquaintance took place in the Market Place in Macroom and if you go to Macroom on a Tuesday, you will have no problem in identifying the spot..
Art and Eibhlín got married and settled down in Raleigh House, two miles west of Macroom town on the banks of Sullane. They had a family of three children but the Penal Laws were in force at the time and according to there laws no Irishman could own a horse of value more than five pounds. One of the local English gentry named Baldwin who was living at Hanover Hall where Pat Casey now lives offered five pounds to Art for his horse. Instead of giving him a horse, Art gave him a beating and a warrant was issued for the arrest of Art. This would have been completely in character with Art who was afraid of nothing. He was one of the Wild Geese who had quickly risen through the ranks of the Austrian army. When he came home to live at Raleigh, he did a few stunts which lived on in the local folklore. One of them was to walk a barrel down Castle Street. It would be a difficult feat to do today but it must have been an exceptional feat in those days of dirt roads. Even though he was now on the run, he doesn’t seem to have been that worried about being captured chiefly because he could, with his horse, outrun any of the local nags.
On this fine day in the start of May, he had been visiting Drishane Castle and had a skirmish with a group of soldiers somewhere around Kilmeady. The soldiers had followed him at a distance. When he reached Carriganima, he would have travelled down through Walsh’s yard where the old road ran down through the lane at the back of the village across the river at the fording point just below where the ruined footbridge is and continued down parallel to the bank of the river where the old road ran until it rejoined the present Cabrach road near where there is a bit of a sand pit in the present day. He stopped when he was across the river, probably to look back at what was happening behind him. He was out of range of an ordinary shot. What he didn’t seem to realise was that a one-eyed soldier named Morris had him in his sights from the walls of the cattle pound which was situated where a milking parlour now stands. He had a clear shot of over 200 yards at Art on the other side of the river. Only one shot was fired and Art was struck close to a blackthorn bush (according to local tradition). He got the horse started for home but he fell off the horse about a hundred yards down about 100 yards down the track. The place where he fell and died is marked to the present day by a heap of small stones. At that time, it was the tradition that those passing the way would mark the spot by placing a small stone in the heap. Over the years a mound of stones grew to mark the spot.
The horse continued home to Raleigh. When Eileen saw the horse in the yard, with blood on the saddle, she knew that Art was in trouble. She mounted the horse which brought her back to the spot where Art lay in a pool of blood with an old woman by his side. Art must have bled to death. If he was killed outright, he would have fallen by the blackthorn bush or he would have been dragged by the horse if his legs were stuck in the stirrup and Eibhlín makes no reference to anything like this in her lament. Art was waked that night in the old flour mill which was located on the river side where the two lanes meet that came down out of Carriganima Village. He was waked the following day at his own home and was buried at Dundareirke later on. He should have been buried in Kilcrea Abbey which was the burial place of his family but the penal laws forbade that. Later however Art was exhumed and his body now lies in Kilcrea Churchyard with the inscription
Art O Laoghaire
Generous Handsome Bold
Slain in his Bloom
Lies in this Humble Grave
As I said earlier, it was his wife’s work which made him famous. That is Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire. Otherwise, he would have been just another Paddy knocked off by the Brits. Eibhlín is supposed to have started composing the lament that night in Carriganime.
Mo ghrá go daingean tú
Lá dá bhfaca thú
Ag ceann tí an mhargaidh
Thug mo shúil aire dhuit
Thug mo chroí taitneamh duit
D’éalaíos óm charaid leat
I bhfad ó bhaile leat.
Eileen goes on to describe their relationship, the fantastic time they had together, the good life she had in Raleigh with him and the circumstances leading up to him going on the run. She describes that fateful day in detail. How she was resting in bed with their third child. How she heard the sound of the horse in the yard that put the heart crossways in her. How with three jumps, she was on the horse’s back.
Go bhfuaireas romham tú marbh,
Gan Pápa, gan Easpach,
Gan cléireach, gan sagart,
Do léifeadh ort an tsailm,
Ach seanbhean chríonna, chaite
Do leath ort binn dá falling.
She goes on then to describe his location and in particular the pool of blood which she drank from her hands. She also describes the events of the following days and curses Morris, the soldier who shot him.
Her wish came true, as one of Art’s brothers shot Morris in an ale house in Cork City some time afterwards. Her lament was handed down for a couple of generations until it was finally put into print. It is the longest and finest lament in the western world. Nothing that Milton or Shelley wrote compares with it. You have to go to Ancient Greek writers to find anything to match it.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam agus anam a bhean chéile, Eibhlín.