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 Mary Collins Dolan on March 18, 2014 at 7:34am

Hi, Alannah-  finally got to read your blog and it is wonderful.  You are welcome back to Carrick-on-Shannon and Lovely Leitrim at any time.


Comment by Alannah Ryane on March 26, 2014 at 1:02pm

Thank you Mary I miss it so much I cannot tell you!  Still wondering about that castle drawing ....???  hint hint


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