Arthur O’Leary, the Outlaw

Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, January-June 1949
John T. Collins

A leading article which appeared in the Cork Examiner some time ago deplored the manner in which memorials of historic interest in this country were allowed to fall into ruin and decay, and the tomb of Arthur O’Leary in Kilcrea Friary was cited as one such example. It was stated that some of the slabs which had supported the covering flag had fallen, and that the entire structure was in imminent danger of collapse.

The members of the local National Monuments Advisory Committee, having first satisfied themselves that the statement was correct, urged that steps be taken to get the tomb repaired, but found there were some legal difficulties in the way.

Kilcrea Friary itself is scheduled as an ancient monument, and as such is under the guardianship of the commissioners of public works. That body is responsible for such structural repairs as are necessary to secure the fabric of the building, but accepts no responsibility for tombs contained therein, but cannot spend public money on the renovation of tombs. However, to the credit of the members of that body, they decided to make an exception in this case, repair the tomb, and risk the surcharge.

The editor of this Journal, with Mr James Hurley and the present writer, subsequently visited the friary and found that the necessary repairs had been duly carried out, the supporting slabs had been again fixed into position and cement-pointed; while the railing which surrounds the tomb had received a badly needed coat of paint.

Some of the inscriptions on the covering flag have become well nigh indecipherable, but after some difficulty we read as follows:-

Lo Arthur Leary, generous,
Handsome, brave, slain in
His bloom, lies in this humble
grave. Died May 4th, 1773.
Aged 26 years.

Having served the Empress Therese as Captain of the Hungarian Hussars, he returned home to be outlawed and treacherously shot by order of the British Government, his sole crime being that he refused to part with a favourite horse for the sum of five pounds

Cornelius O’Leary. Barrister-at-Law,
ex-Captain of the Gardes-Francaises,
son of Arthur the Outlaw.
Born August 25, A.D. 1768.
Died August 20, A.D. 1846.

C.F. Purcell O’Leary, Barrister-at-Law,
Son of Cornelius, born October 6 A.D. 1815.
Died June 21 A.D. 1846.

The late Dr Caulfield (one time librarian of the Queen’s College, Cork) records that in this tomb are also laid the remains of another grandson of Arthur the Outlaw, namely Dr Goodwin Purcell O’Leary, M.A., professor of materia in that college, Dr Caulfield also related the series of events which led to Arthur O’Leary’s death.

Upon a certain day Major O’Leary joined the Muskerry Hunt and took the brush, his horse outstripping the field. Among the rest, that of Mr Morris, a magistrate, who – under an old statute of William III – offered £5 for the animal. This was too much from a country squire for a military man to endure, and the whip was freely used by both parties. At a meeting of magistrated immediately convoked, Arthur O’Leary was proclaimed an outlaw. Shortly afterwards he was taken off his guard when riding near Carriganimy and shot by a soldier from the pound, where a number had been stationed under command of an officer, armed with loaded muskets. O’Leary returned the fire from an old pistol. The soldier who shot him remarked to his officer, ‘I have covered the buckle of his shoe and will hit him from the side.’ O’Leary fell dead, his charger returned home and pawed the door of his dwelling house at Raleigh.

The late Mr D.A. O’Shea stated the scene of his death was a small, green inch, in the townland of Carrigonirtane, near the village of Carriganima. He continues:-

Many a time in youthful prime, I, with companions co-eval, performed a sort of pilgrimage to the spot where he fell, and our childish minds were filled with the wildest and most weird stories of his youth and beauty, his courage and his manliness: All the legends of his life and death were told in Gaelic, by the seanachies sitting round the turf fires at night, but it was the Death-Lamentation of the Caoine that was most popular. Old and young could recite verses of it, and through the long course of years that elapsed, since Eileen Dhuv chanted her song of death over the remains of her husband, many a stanza has been added, as are many lost and forgotten.

Another version of the events leading to O’Leary’s death taken from Ireland: Its Scenery and Character, by Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall. The authors paid a visit to Kilcrea Friary prior to 1843 and relate that the dispute with Morris originated in a scuffle for priority in obtaining a goblet of water which an old woman handed to them at a spring well near Mount Massey, generally called ‘The Spa’. O’Leary struck Morris, was indicted and bound to stand his trial. He failed to appear, his recognaisances were estreated and he resisted their recovery. A writ of outlawry was issued against him and he went abroad for some time.

On his return he made no attempt to conceal himself but frequented fairs and markets, armed, and bidding ostentatious defiance to his enemies. A party of soldiers were sent to arrest him. Several shots were exchanged when a little soldier, a raw recruit, covered him with his piece, saying ‘I’m sure to hit him now’ pulled the trigger and O’Leary fell dead.

An account related by Michael Pyne and reproduced in this Journal stated that Arthur O’Leary of Raleigh near Macroom, had a dispute with Abraham Morris of Dunkettle, Cork, who then resided at Hanover Hall about three miles north of Macroom.

Morris had spent the day of 4 May at Drishane castle accompanied by Dominic Harding – father to Philip Harding of Macroom. O’Leary knew they were there and determined to meet Morris on his way homeward and finish the dispute. O’Leary came to the village of Carriganima and pulled up at the house of Daniel Reardon Barret where he called for a quart of rum and drank two drams, sharing the rest with the bystanders. The owner of the house used all his influence to induce O’Leary to turn back but to no effect. O’Leary reached Liscahane – opposite Kilmeedy castle – and there waited in ambush, armed with sword and firearms. The party coming from Drishane had been meanwhile warned of their danger, and returning to Millstreet, procured a guard of soldiers and resumed their journey. O’Leary now made his appearance openly, keeping out of musket range, but travelling in the same direction until Carriganima was reached.

O’Leary here halted his horse at what he thought was a safe distance and rested his thigh in the pommel of the saddle. The officer drew up his men alongside the pound fence near Mr O’Shea’s house and one of the men resting his firelock on the fence asked Morris if he should fire. On being told to do so, he shot O’Leary under the ear, who fell bleeding to the ground. The narrator records that Arthur O’Leary was educated in France, was of fine physique and an athlete of whom it is said that he would stand in the middle hoop of a hogshead, rolling down from the Mall of Macroom to the old bridge over the Sullane, a distance of twenty-five perched and having an incline of one foot in eleven. Pyne stated he derived his information from Jeffrey O’Herlihy of Macroom and also from a respectable farmer named Daniel Hugh Kelleher, who occupied the ground on which O’Leary was shot and was an eye witness to the scene. Pyne also records that O’Leary was buried in the old graveyard of Tuath na Dromann, from which six months later his body was removed to Kilcrea. Kilnamartra cemetry (not far from Dundareirk castle) is the burial place of Tuath na Dromann and to this O’Leary’s widow refers in her caoin relating how she left the father of her children in Kilnamartra.

Dr Osborn Bergin, in his noted to this caoin, published in the Gaelic Journal, 1896, related that Diarmuid O Riordan, then a member of the Cork branch of the Gaelic League, told him his father had another verse or two of that caoin (now missing) describing the removal of the body from Kilnamartra to Kilcrea. An account published in the Irish Book Lover, December, 1944, which was taken from a manuscript seemingly written by Father Matthew Horgan of Blarney in 1845, states that O’Leary’s body was not allowed to be interred in any churchyard and after some time was buried in a field near the friary (presumably Kilcrea) where it remained for many years until interred within the ruins. Caulfield also stated that the remains were first deposited in field near the friary, but subsequently removed within, and a stately altar tomb erected to his memory. John Windele records a description of Arthur O’Leary’s grave at the angle of the nave, and he too, stated the body was buried in a field outside the friary, where it lay for some years before removal.

Arthur Gerald Geoghegan, in noted to his poem, ‘The Monks of Kilcrea,’ states that Arthur O’Leary’s father lived in the parish of Ballymurphy, where the ruins of his dwelling are still pointed out and when the O’Leary’s were evicted from there the outlaw’s mother, with her own hand cut down the rafters of the house. He also stated that under the belfry at Kilcrea is a huge flat tombstone and under it the outlaw’s father is buried. The stone is some three feet under and country people say it was the breadth of the O’Leary shoulders. The inscription on the flag reads ‘Daniel Leary, Ballymurphy.’

John Windele records that the stone was marked by a large cross, bore the name Cornelius Leary and the date 1743.

Those O’Learys of Ballymurphy were middlemen who originally held leases of land in county Kerry from Lord Kenmare. A lease granted in 1681 of a townland there called Coumnahavanistragh to Ferdinando O’Leary is referred to in a deposition taken in 1737 from Arthur O’Leary of Coum in Kerry and Cornelius O’Leary of Ballymurphy in Co. Cork. Another deposition taken from Sir Valentine Browne stated how he again let Coum (or Coome), part to the uncle Cornelius, and part to the nephew Dermot O’Leary. Dermot lived there but Cornelius had married and had gone to live near Bandon in Co. Cork. Sir Valentine writes:- ‘It was with great reluctance I gave him this lease till he promised me he would reside on the estate if he got this spot which he said was the ancient residence of his family – our fosterers – with much Irish trash to this purpose which he never performed’.

Those O’Learys of Ballymurphy evidently had (prior to 1773) acquired burial rights in Kilcrea, and if the outlaw was of that family this may account for the removal of his body from Kilnamartra. That they had some connection with the leading O’Leary’s of Iveleary is shown by Cornelius Leary of Ballymurphy being in 1753 nominated as one of the executors of the will of Cornelius O’Leary of Carrignacurra, gentleman.

The genealogy of the outlaw as given by his widow is Art son to Conor, son to Ceadach, son to Lisagh O’Leary, from the Gaelagh. A Lisagh O’Leary in 1641 was owner of Inshnanaeve and Gortnaclodige in the parish of Inchigella. He went into rebellion, was outlawed and his lands were forfeited. He was deceased prior to 1656. Ceadach Leary figures among the many of the name, residing in Gougane Barra and Iveleary, who (circa 1659) are suspected friends, relations and harbourers of Tories. There is no proof that the Lisagh or Ceadach mentioned were in the direct ancestral line of Arthur O’Leary. There are many contemporary allusions to the events connected with him contained in letters written by his brother-in-law, Count Daniel O’Connell.

O’Leary’s wife Eileen Dubh Ní Chonaill, daughter to Dónal Mór Ó Conaill of Derrynane, and his wife Máire Dubh Ní Dhonnchadha of Glenflesk. Eileen had been married while very young to a Mr O’Connor of Firies in Kerry. He died and the young widow paid a visit to her sister Máire, wife to Jame Baldwin of Clohina, near Macroom. Visiting Macroom one day, from a window which looked out into the market place, she saw Arthur O’Leary riding into the square. Acquaintance ripened into love and O’Leary requested her hand in marriage from her parents. He did not succeed in obtaining it so the pair eloped and got married. news of the event was sent across the sea to her brother Daniel O’Connell of the Irish Brigade, and writing from France to his brother Maurice of Derrynane, May 1768 he replies:- ‘I am sorry to learn that our sister Nellie has taken a step contrary to the will of her parents, but love will not know or hear reason.’

He returned home some six years later, and on his again leaving for France found some difficulty in embarking until he obtained a passage for Dunkirk on board a brig belonging to Mr Deasy of Clonakilty. Writing from that town on 15 April 1773, he conveys the news to Maurice, and also stated, ‘I am glad to find our friend Arthur arrived safe. My fond affection to my sister.’ Then came the tragic episode of 4 May. The sad news was sent to France and Daniel writes to his brother Maurice from Bethune on 20 June 1773.

I received your favour of 23rd of last month by which I learned the unhappy fate of poor Arthur O’Leary. I can’t express how much I have been shocked at it. The short acquaintance I had with him gave me a more favourable opinion than I had at first conceived of him. I still foresaw that his violence and ungovernable temper would infallibly lead him into misfortune. Brother Baldwin has given me a full account of the circumstances that preceded and attended his last moments. It is, however, no small comfort to be assured there remains some livelihood for his orphans and widow. Her situation, my dear brother, when she considers her own imprudence and the disregard she showed for your advice at the time of her marriage with that unfortunate man would be distracting were she not encouraged by the goodness of your mind. You are too generous to add to her misfortunes. I am sure you have ere now forgot that she ever offended you, and let you exert your friendship for her and her children.

Maurice (better known as Hunting Cap) seems to have remained obdurate and from Calais three years later (6 July 1776) Daniel again appeals to his better nature.

Were it possible you’d bring your heart to forget the faults of the unfortunate Widow O’Leary. Charity and her misery and misfortune call upon you for mercy. I wish it may be and could, but dare not urge it from a sense of her offences. However, from my dear Maurice’s good heart anything may be expected. Follow its dictates and I’ll venture to affirm you’ll forgive.

Reconciliation must have com about, for in a letter to Maurice in April 1784, Daniel desires to be remembered to the Widow Leary, and in another letter of 1791 she is described as ‘his sister Nellie.’

There were at least two sons, Conor and Fiach. In one version of the caoine the latter is styled ‘Fear’, which in some O’Learys was anglicised into Ferinando. In 1789 and 1791, Conor O’Leary was being educated in France, his fees being paid by his uncles, Maurice and Morgan O’Connell (the latter was father to the future Liberator).

He seems to have got married in France as in 1825 Count Daniel O’Connell, writing from Paris to his nephew, James O’Connell, informs him that Dr Con O’Leary and family are well and that O’Leary is very desirous to obtain for his eldest boy the first bourse that falls vacant in the O’Connell foundation in Paris, ‘and surely he has a fair claim to it.’ Mrs Morgan J. O’Connell, in commenting on this letter, states that the Con O’Leary mentioned was son to Arthur O’Leary and Eileen O’Connell, that he had served in the Gardes Francaises, had embraced the professions of law and physic, and was married three times. In O’Neill Daunt’s Recollection of O’Connell, he related an occasion in which the Liberator made a reference to Arthur O’Leary (who was his aunt’s husband)

That man’s son was the father of two fine boys, he brought up one of them a Protestant and the other a Catholic; the poor children early showed the belligerent spirit of religious hostility. They were always squabbling. The Catholic brother would say:- ‘We’ll get emancipation in spite of you.’ ‘No you rascal,’ the Protestant brother would answer, ‘We’ll keep our foot upon your necks.’

Cornelius O’Leary, ex member of the Gardes Francaises, barrister and doctor, appears to have settled finally at Upper Dromore in the parish of Kilshannig, south-west of Mallow. He seems to have had some family connection (perhaps by marriage) with the Purcells of Dromore. Cornelius O’Leary esq., barrister, resided at Upper Dromore in 1842 (vide Cork County Port Office Directory 1842-43). In 1845-6 his name appears as being still resident there and under the word ‘Barrister’ also appears ‘Doctor’.

If our readings of the inscriptions on the tomb at Kilcrea are correct, Cornelius, son of Arthur, died in August, 1846 having been pre-deceased the previous June by his son, C. F. Purcell O’Leary, B.:L.

In Henry and Coughlan’s Cork Directory, 1862-3, P. O’Leary, B.S.L., A.M., M.D., F.R.S., is named as professor of materia medica at the Queen’s College, Cork, and as Purcell O’Leary, M.D., reisdent of 9 Sydney Place. In Wilkies Cork Directory, 1872, Dr Purcell still appears amongst the Queen’s College staff, but is now resident at No. 1 Morrison’s Quay, Cork. As mentioned at the commencement of this article, Dr Caulfield sstates he was grandson of Arthur O’Leary, and was interred in the Kilcrea tomb. His grand-niece, Miss Sarah O’Leary, resides at No. 1 Dunbar Street, Cork. She states her father was Cornelius O’Leary of Upper Dromore, whose father, Arthur O’Leary was brother to the Queen’s College professor.

In Guy’s Directory of Munster, 1886, the name Cornelius O’Leary of Upper Dromore appears amongst the principal farmers in the parish of Kilshannig. Miss O’Leary informs me that the farm was later on sold and the family scattered, but that her sister, Mrs Margaret Atkinson, still resides in that district. Miss O’Leary is the only direct descendant whom I personally know of Arthur O’Leary of Raleigh and Eileen Dubh Ní Chonaill of Derrynane.

The limited sources at my disposal do not permit me to give any further information concerning Arthur O’Leary. There is much more I would like to know. For instance, was he one of the Ballymurphy O’Learys (originally from County Kerry) or was he of the Iveleary sept? If so, what branch? Why did the outlaw’s body remain buried in a field adjacent to the monastery after its removal from Kilnamartra? Who erected the tomb and drafter the inscription on the covering of the slab?

It is more likely that the part indicting the British Government was not inserted until the penal laws had become a dim memory. Was Arthur O’Leary’s service in the army of Marie Therese prior to or after his marriage? If the age given in the inscription is accurate, he can only have been 21 ears when that event took place and it is unlikely a minor could have been captain of the Hungarian Hussars. When or where did Eileen Dubh depart this life? Was she laid in the O’Connell vault at Derrynane or beside her husband at Kilcrea? What became of their second son, Fiach or Fear?

It bay be that the publication of this article may bring to light family documents which would add to our meagre knowledge of Arthur O’Leary the outlaw, his ancestry, career and descendants.

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