The McDonagh McCarthys Of Curraghs and Kilbrin

The story of the illustrious McDonagh McCarthy Lords of Duhallow belongs to the parish of Kilbrin and not, as is often claimed, to the town of Kanturk!

In Gaelic times the McCarthys, along with O’Callaghans, McAuliffes and O’Keeffes, belonged to a major tribal grouping called Cineal Laoighre. With O’Sullivans and O’Donoghues, they occupied the present areas of East Kilkenny, South Tipperary, North Cork and Mid Kerry, known as the Kingdom of Desmond or South Munster. These related “families” variously provided kings for Munster and Desmond for over a thousand years until the Norman invasion of AD 1169. The tide of invasion spilling over Desmond pushed them all westwards to re-establish in Duhallow, Muskerry, and Carbery and in Kerry, south of the river Main.

Already around AD 1124, the direct descendants of Tadhg McCarthy, King of Munster & Desmond, had settled in the Newmarket area where they became known as the McAuliffes. Tadhg’s daughter Sabh married Donal O’Brien of Thomond and from them most of the royal houses of Europe, including the English royal family, are descended. In the face of the Norman onslaught, around AD. 1180, the O’Callaghans settled in Clonmeen, the O’Keeffes Lords of Fermoy settled in Dromagh and the McCarthys settled in West Cork and Mid Kerry.

Dermod McCarthy was King of Desmond at this time and his demesne lands were around Killarney. The McCarthys spearheaded the Gaelic resistance to the Norman advance and were particularly successful under Donal na Curra McCarthy Mór in halting the Normans east of a line from Blarney to Kilbolane. Donal na Curra got his name from the McCarthy castle in the Gaelic Tuatha of Curraghs in the parish of Kilbrin, where he died in AD.1206. His assumption of the McCarthy Mór title was a practical acceptance of the demise of the ancient Kingdom of Desmond, and recognition of his position as head of the premier family of the McCarthys.

Over the next sixty years or so, Donal’s descendants established a total of 14 McCarthy lordships, some almost independent but with McCarthy Mór as titular overlord. McCarthy Muskerry of Blarney and McCarthy Reagh of Kilbrittan were leading branches, but he first offshoot and senior cadet branch of McCarthy Mór was the Lordship of Duhallow, founded by Dermod McCarthy, younger son of Cormac Fionn McCarthy Mór in AD.1242. Dermod was succeeded by his son Donagh and Donagh’s descendants were thereafter known as "McDonagh McCarthy Lords of Duhallow”. English records frequently give a shortened version of "McDonagh (Lord) of Duhallow".

McDonagh McCarthy were overlords of the O’Callaghans, O’Keeffes, and McAuliffes with rights of a feudal lord of the highest rank. Their demesne, or personal lands, were the parish of Kilbrin, Rosline, parts of Drumtarriff and Ballyclough, and some other townlands, about 18,000 acres in all. Their main residence was in Curraghs, where their small castle stood on the left bank of the Allow at the east end of Knocknacolan. Its ruins were removed in the AD 1800s to make way for a mansion for the Blood family. Kanturk, a creation of the Earls of Egmont, did not emerge as a town until the Percevals arrived there in the AD 1650s. Facing them, on this eastern border of Duhallow was the Norman frontier of Orrery and Kilmore, strongly fortified by Subalter, Lohort and Liscarrol and intent on pushing into the Gaelic territory of Duhallow. In July AD 1250, the Norman Court at Kilmaclennine decreed that Kilbrin belonged to the Medi - a Sicilian-Norman family connected with the Barrys. The same Court conceded that 1000 acres of wood in Drominagore belonged to Dermod McCarthy.

The Norman claims notwithstanding, from their base in Curraghs, the McDonaghs vigorously defended the north-eastern borders of Duhallow and pushed into Norman territory to leave a Norman island of Castle Magner and Subalter completely surrounded by Duhallow in AD 1350. As with all the McCarthys, they were renowned for great daring and fighting qualities. In the AD 1640s, despite being married to Lord Barry M6r’s daughter, Donagh óg McDonagh held most of his father-in-law’s Orrery & Kilmore under Black Rent. In a treaty made at Curraghs in AD 1467 he bought Castlecor Castle from the Barrys, and got a title to Lohort Castle which he re-built as a counter to the new castle of the Magners. Lohort was rented to a family called White who were still there when his grandson Eugene of Knocktemple (Freemount) married Davinia White sixty years later. In the treaty Donagh óg retained Kilbolane built by his grandfather Cormac who had set the McDonagh pace by capturing and burning the Norman walled town of Buttevant before he died in AD 1380.

Donagh óg had to give back Mallow Castle to the Fitzgeralds, a point that rankled with the McDonaghs down to Cromwellian times. When the youthful John Barry Mór came cattle-raiding into Duhallow, Donagh óg, no respecter of his wife’s family, pursued and killed him at Ardprior on Christmas Day AD 1486. Donagh óg‘s death in AD 1501 led to a dispute among the McDonagh McCarthys about his successor and to a fatal feud that split the family for the rest of its history.

Donagh óg had a son Cormac by his first wife Eleanor Fitzgerald, a daughter of the White Knight. He also had a son Eoghan by his second wife, a daughter of Cormac Laidir McCarthy Mór. Cormac succeeded but was murdered by Eoghan, in AD 1516. Eoghan, in turn, was murdered by Cormac’s son Cormac óg four years later. Cormac óg, who was married to Honora McAuliffe, was himself killed in AD 1560 by Eoghan’s grandson, also called Eoghan. Embroiled in their blood fratricides, these McDonaghs added little to the credit of their name.

Cormac óg was succeeded by his cousin Donagh, son of the murdered Eoghan. Donagh died in AD 1581 and was succeeded by his son also called Donagh. This Donagh was married to a daughter of Donal an Dromin McCarthy Mór - a niece of Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy and “a pleasant cultured person who has perfect English". This Donagh was known as “Donagh an Bhóthair" for the help he gave to Sir Henry Sydney in AD 1568 in making the road through Duhallow that still runs from Kanturk via Kiskeam to Castleisland. Like all the McCarthys, except Eugene of Knocktemple who died in Limerick Jail in AD. 1581, Donagh opposed the Desmonds who responded by massacring the O’Keeffes and killing Prior O’Scullaí at Castlecor.

Before his death in AD 1584, he attempted to stem the family feud between the McCormacs, descendants of the Cormac murdered by Eoghan in AD 1516, and the McEoghans, descendants of the same Eoghan who was himself murdered in AD 1520. Donagh informally divided the lands and residences among them but he details are not now known.

Donagh an Bhóthair was succeeded by his cousin Donagh McCormac óg who was married to Joan Fitzgerald daughter of the then White Knight. Dermod McEoghan, nephew of Donagh an Bhóthair and head of the rival family disputed the succession, although it was recognised by Florence McCarthy Mór in AD 1589. When Dermod tried his case in the English Court the only outcome was that Donagh got legal possession of Curraghs castle, the occupation of which seems to have been the main issue between them.

It was at this time that Dermod started about the building of the Old Court in Kanturk, which was to be a very impressive counter to the modest old Tower House in Curraghs. To pay for it, he mortgaged tracts of the McDonagh demesne although, under Gaelic law, the land was communal property. The mortgagee was Sir Philip Perceval, an English Crown Advisor who arrived in Ireland in AD 1579 and set out to amass vast estates by giving “easy” mortgages to hard-pressed Gaelic landholders. In this way almost half of the McDonagh lands were lost and the Perceval connection with Kanturk had its sordid beginnings. Worse still, Dermod’s efforts were to prove all in vain when the English, jealous of his grand design, in Ad 1598 forced him to put a stop to it. The building was abandoned and the Castle is unfinished to the present day.

In that year the Munster rebellion broke out and the northern Earls O’Neill and O’Donnell, supporting The Sugan Earl of Desmond, raided and pillaged into Munster. No friend of the McCarthys, O’Neill gave Dermod the titles of Lord of Duhallow and McCarthy Mór. He took Donagh prisoner and attempted to take him back to the north as he feared Donagh might go on the English side against Dermod. In March Ad 1601, going through south Galway, in O’Shaughnessy territory, the party ran into a skirmish with an English force. To prevent his capture, Donagh was killed by his escort. His killer was a supporter of Dermod, called Dónal na Rásca O’Keeffe who, to escape the vengeance of Donagh’s family, went on the run and gained notoriety locally as "The Gortmore Outlaw”.

Dermod McEoghan, now undisputed Lord of Duhallow, supported O’Neill’s campaign but was imprisoned by the English before the battle of Kinsale. He was released when he submitted to the Crown in AD 1602. In return he was created Lord of Duhallow by the English and granted title for the McDonagh McCarthy demesne. Donagh’s son Cormac, and the many smaller branches of the family opposed this grant to Dermod of what under Gaelic law was communal land, but it was confirmed by the Crown in AD 1615. Dermod died in AD 1625 and ten years later his estate was the subject of a Post Mortem Inquisition. The inquiry found that Rosline, Curraghs, Banemore and Ballybane, Clonribbon, Lohort and Ballygiblin, and some other townlands were all mortgaged to Sir Philip Perceval. Cormac McDonagh still held part of Ballynoe and all of Coolmahane.

By now the sun had all but set on the McDonagh McCarthys. Dermod was succeeded by his son Dermod óg, who was married to Julia, the daughter of the O’Sullivan Beara who had survived the long march to Leitrim in the winter after the Battle of Kinsale. His inheritance squandered, this Dermod displayed all the heroism of his warrior ancestors. In the Spring of AD 1643 he was involved in the attack on Mallow and the English accounts indicate that he was a popular leader of courage and daring. In November AD 1647, his squadron of horse lead the charge at Knocknanuss which swept the left wing of the parliamentary army to the walls of Mallow. He was again in action at Dromagh in July AD 1651 where he charged at the head of his squadron into the center of the parliamentary position. His half-pike no match for the massed muskets ranged against him, he fell in the thick of the action.

In the Cromwellian Settlement, Perceval secured the mortgaged lands with the aid of another Inquisition. What was left of the family lands were confiscated and given to a number of settlers and adventurers. Many of the surviving members of this long-tailed family seem to have stayed in the area as tenants-at-will of the new order. In their now lowly stations they were absorbed indistinguishably into the ordinary population. Ironically, the final word from the McDonagh McCarthys lay with the McCormacs. Cormac McCormac appeared as Colonel Charles McCarthy Lord of Duhallow, with a force of a thousand men and Sheriff of Cork under the Catholic James II in the Williamite War. In AD 1691 he submitted to King William before the battle of Aughrim. He left for France with the Mountcashel Brigade of Justin McCarthy Muskerry and nothing further is known of him.

With him was finally extinguished the illustrious McDonagh McCarthy Lords of Duhallow. Although long departed from the scene, they are still part of the history and character of the parish of Kilbrin. They lived in their own times, which were harsh and bloody, when life was not as well ordered as it is today. Courageous and energetic almost beyond our present—day understanding, with a rising-out of no more than 50 horse and 200 fighting men, they defended Duhallow against all comers for most of 500 years. Undoubtedly, many of their descendants are still in the parish today. The Egans of Curraghs are of the McEoghan lineage and have the martyred Beotius McEgan in their stock. Many of the McCarthys throughout the area carry McDonagh genes.

If you come across a Kilbrin man (or woman!) in the hurling field, or wherever the going is tough, do well and remember that the McDonagh McCarthys were a hardy crowd!


Denis O’Donoghue

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