The Otherworldly Reach of the O'Rourkes

I was only in Leitrim for 6 days including the two for traveling and one on the set of Ken Loach's film 'Jimmy's Hall'.  In just over 3 days, I was transported to so many magical places it has taken me a lot of google mapping and research to find out where I was and why! 

Anna Porter and her Barne were amazing tour guides, just two of the many I had since I arrived two weeks before in Wiltshire the stone circle capital.  As usual I just got in a car and got out at some spectacular, historically important and beautiful place without knowing where I was!

These blog posts revive my memories while reliving the joy and the dream journey I asked for and, due to the generous hospitality of the Irish, I experienced.

After arriving in  Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim, I booked into  the B-Side Hostel in right at the bridge over the River Shannon.  While looking out of the window  I discovered that the remains of a strategically placed  O'Rourke castle that was taken from Brian óg O'Ruairc in 1603 was right across the road!

I had produced a Virtual Sibin google hangout for the Wild Geese with our own Ryan O'Rourke and Francis O'Neill on her play "The Last Torch".  This drama is about the shipwrecked Spanish Armada officer Francisco de Cuellar off the coast of Ireland and his involvement with the O'Ruaircs. For the sound check I asked Francis to sing something and she launched into 'Eleanor's Aria' which gave me goose bumps so we took that as a good start.  Up until then the O'Ruaircs  were just part of a flurry of battling kings and rulers over decades of tumultuous Irish history. I knew the Maguires, O'Neils and O'Connors were involved because I was searching for my ancestors in those clans but I was definitely not ready to find O'Rourke's around every corner or Lough on my journey through Ireland!

Anna and Barne took me to Leitrim village and while videotaping  the canal on my phone she asked me to turn around to see the remains of the O'Rourke's Leitrim Castle.  A memorial marker told the story of the O'Sullivan Bears' long trek in 1602 from Cork while pursued by the English, and the hospitality received from Brian Og O'Ruairc in that castle.   Our very own Wild Geese, Ryan O'Rourke's article From Bearra to Breifne on this epic march filled in the history of the bits and pieces I picked up while visiting O'Rourke locations.

The next day Anna took me to Lough Gill and  Parke's Castle which was closing but we could see the courtyard through the gate.  The base of a 15th century tower house once owned by Brian O'Ruairc were revealed beneath the cobblestones in the 1970s. This is where Francisco de Cuellar received the O'Ruairc hospitality in 1588 before Brian was executed for high treason at Tyburn in 1591.  Another O'Rourke fact I didnt know until I was recording Anna.

On our way back from the set of Ken Loach's  'Jimmy's Hall' in an old school bus, that took us to and from the set, the driver had slowed down because on my side of the bus there was a very handsome woman waving at us as we passed.  I use that term because there was something about her smiling countenance, and I assumed the little girl with her was her granddaughter.

Back in Anna's car we stopped in Dromahaire to look for the entrance to what we heard was the remains of 'Ballyrourk' or the Castle of Dromahaire on the Bonet or Buaniad 'lasting river' but apparently it is on private land so we went on to Creevelea Abbey.  Anna kept mentioning that we were going there but of course did not mention the O'Ruarics!   Founded in 1508 by Brian Ballach O'Ruairc's parents Eoghan (Owen) O'Ruaric, Prince of Breifne,  and Margaret O'Brien, daughter of Conor O'Brien King of Thomond, it was dissolved in 1598 but occupied by the English and re-occupied by the friars after the restoration up to 1837.

Creevelea Abbey's ancient cemetery became the necropolis of the O'Rourkes as there are so many buried there including Owen and Margaret at the beginning of the 1500s.  It is really quite impressive.  And true to Irish synchronicity as soon as we stepped into the main courtyard there was the woman and her granddaughter watering the flowers and tending to the graves! We told her about my surprise as to the O'Rourke history and many castles in the area and she invited us to her home for tea and cakes where she gave me a little booklet that they were giving out at the community centre to assist me with this 'in your face' clan .  "Buagh" the journal of the O'Rourke Clan is an issue from 1994 published by The O'Rourke Clan  of Dromahair, Co Leitrim.  Another experience of Irish hospitality and generosity and for some reason more O'Rourke history for me.

I couldn't help thinking about this ancient kingdom of Breifne and what the old clans thought about the dolmens, stone circles and tales about the Tuatha de Danann that penetrated their surroundings.  The O'Rourkes were not done with me yet when this Irish History novice discovered how the kidnapping of Tighearnan Mor O'Ruaric's wife Dervogilla very quickly changed the course of the Irish people while I was in Wexford.  This area is so unexpectedly beautiful and haunting and as we continued on our travels I came to know why W.B. Yates could not help but be drawn into the mystique embedded in the land around him.

I had so many beautiful photos and video all shot on my phone that I had to put a video together to accompany this post.  I really wanted my friends and family to see why my desire to go to Ireland had been so strong for so long and I never want to forget my experiences there, although the dramatic effect the journey has had on me is already noticeable, by myself, every day since.  Please post a comment with any corrections to my facts as the seduction of the seduction of the O'Ruaircs was very swift indeed.

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Tags: Leitrim, O'Rourke

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on January 9, 2014 at 1:14pm

Well done, Alannah.  Excellent rundown of some of the key places and events in my ancestors' lives and in the history of the Kingdom of Bréifne.  Really enjoyed the video, too.  We're only about two and one-half hours' drive from auld Bréifne living here in Connemara, so we enjoy getting up there to the kingdom as often as we can.  Lord Brian na Múrtha Ó Ruairc (the one who assisted the survivors of the Spanish Armada wrecks in 1588) and his son, Brian óg na samhthach O Ruairc (the one who welcomed and sheltered the survivors of the epic O'Sullivan Beare trek in 1602) were great men and honourable rulers who solidified the O'Rourke sept in history as one of immense courage in the face of oppression, but also bountiful generosity and hospitality toward friends and those in need.

Brian óg na samhthach O Ruairc died a relatively young man in 1604 after his heroics in The Nine Years War, and he was buried (at his request) on the grounds of Mainistir Ros Oirialaigh (Ross Errilly Friary) just outside the town of Headford in County Galway.  Here's a photo I snapped in one of my many visits to Ross Errilly:

Did you guys have time to make the hike to the top of O'Rourke's Table?

Comment by Alannah Ryane on January 9, 2014 at 3:24pm

Oh Ryan as I was reading this I got serious waves of goosebumps right to the top of my head and back.  There is definitely something in this story for me I just knew it was all too much syncing up to dismiss this constant barrage of O'Rourke encounters.  I got it again in Wexford!  I feel it is in my DNA and maybe there is a marriage or something with my O'Neills, Maguire, or Connors...something is going on with this bloodline that is for sure. 

We didn't go on an O'Rourke tour and it was a real whirlwind, Anna didn't even mention O'Rourkes they just popped into my reality every time I got out of the car.  I realize now of course that I was in their territory but I really believe that because I did not have a travel agenda I must have latched on to a frequency or something that lead me to their story?  Thanks Ryan!

Comment by The Last Torch on January 10, 2014 at 6:02am

Thank you so much for this. Personally inspirational to me. Thanks again..

Comment by The Last Torch on January 10, 2014 at 6:04am

Comment by The Last Torch on January 10, 2014 at 6:09am

The O'Rourkes are spooky like that. My mum is an O'Rourke and she is super spooky and in tune. I maintain they gave me the music to write The Last Torch. They are keen to get their story told!!

Comment by Rose Maurer on January 10, 2014 at 10:32am

Sincere thanks Alannah! I felt homesick to which I have never been, but your video and commentary were most moving.

Comment by Craig Welbourn on January 10, 2014 at 2:36pm

Wonderful, Alannah! You have preserved an important chapter of Irish history. Loved the video- it should be added to the National Film Board library for all Canadians to learn from and appreciate.

Comment by Valerie Lynn Whelan on January 11, 2014 at 11:35pm

Beautifully done, Alannah! The call of the road and the lure of lush green paths made me want to book a trip to Ireland the minute I watched your video.  You've inspired me to read my family histories more closely -- there are Irish connections there. Thanks for the tour!

Comment by James McNamara on January 12, 2014 at 1:03pm

Very well done Alannah.  Most enjoyable.

Comment by Alannah Ryane on January 14, 2014 at 9:40am

I am borrowing my friend's internet, as I have been mostly 'offline' for the last year.  I wanted to respond to all the kind comments for this, and all my posts and videos, and say how much I appreciate the feedback. My focus has been on finding a new way to articulate the retelling of my experiences, with the places and subjects I was drawn to, that will encourage the diaspora to travel through Ireland intuitively, as I believe this is the one country that assists in that way more than any other. 

I have just been invited to stay for awhile with my niece and her constantly growing family of O'Rourkes!  They are coming for me again! 


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