Friday, February 10, 2006

Pat Herlihy's early 1970s article


A General History compiled by Patrick Herlihy,

member of the Irish Ancestry Research Society.


At first it was just a vague interest in a family name that meant “Prince of the West”. And for a long time information came so gradually that it hardly seemed worthwhile. But as the story locked together it became clear that there was something our of the ordinary here. Ireland’s history is more fragmented that England’s and less. No Romans broke the Iron Age Celtic culture and no Anglo-Saxons brought a Dark Age to the country. There are pockets of land in Ireland which have apparently escaped disruption since the beginning of time. (Yes, a charge of slight exaggeration might be relevant here!) Then there came the realisation that Irish surnames developed far earlier in Ireland than in England; l they began in the 10th Century and were widespread in the 12th. There were several other interesting facts too - most of my aunts and uncles were teachers and civil servants and there seemed to be a concern in the family for a good education (even beyond the obvious need to have a good education to move on in an immigrant family). On the other side was the “knowledge” that Irish records were virtually non-existent - what did exist were burnt in a fire during the 1916 uprising. But, incredibly, the story continued to emerge into a justifiable and fascinating account. I am certain that what follows would sound very different if told by a soldier or a business man, for as a teacher I have found echoes of my own preconceptions in the episodes I have heard. But most of the Herlihy’s I have met have been gentle giants with a sharp way with words and do not seem to have changed much from descriptions of our ancestors in the 17th Century. It may not be so wrong after all.


Ballyvourney (Baile Bhuirne in Gaelic) is the area where the Herlihy’s lived in the early years and up to the 17th Century. It is set in a valley cut deep into the hills behind Macroom and is closed in, to the North by the Derrynasaggart Mountains. (The modern road from Cork to Killarney travels through Ballyvourney but must cross the mountains by a long high pass.) As the valley of the Sullane river passes south east there is much rough country between Ballyvourney and Macroom. In very early times travel must have been difficult in and out of this enclosed area and it is easy to see why this is one of the places where the Irish Chieftains remained in control when much of Eastern Ireland and the coastal areas were taken over by the Norman Welsh and later English invaders from the 12th Century onwards.

So how far back can we see? Several waves of Celtic invaders with iron weapons entered south west Ireland in the 6th - 1st Century Before Christ and became rulers of the peoples they found already in the country but did not slaughter them. Eventually a dynasty known as the Eoganacht developed in Munster with Erainn vassals. The followers of Eogan were most likely from the last wave of invaders and it is not too clear who the Erainn were. They were possibly one of the earlier waves of Celtic invaders or could be some of the pre-Celtic peoples. Now there are several prehistoric remains in the Ballyvourney area. On the slopes of one of the mountains overlooking the townland is a dolmen (a slab of stone supported by others - the central part of a tumuli or burial mound) known as Dermot and Grania’s bed. To the south east near Carrigaphooca Castle is another. And “St Gobnait’s house” is now thought to be the remains of an iron smelting operation. The dates of all of these are unknown but suggest a long history of occupation by the Iron Age Celtic people and possibly by the early Neolithic people before them. The ancient Irish annals refer to the Muscraige as one of the groups of people in south west Ireland. Ballvourney is in the Barony of Muskerry and we presume that whoever lived and was buried in these early graves were (on however small a scale) part of the Kingdom of the Eoganacht or one of the many vassal tribes.

The name of the Dolmen on the slopes of Mount Mullaghanish is an imaginative link with the great story cycle of Finn McCool whose band of heroes hunted and adventured across Munster before St Patrick and his followers modified the thoughts of the people with the Christian ideal. The name evokes the most beautiful love story of the whole story cycle - and the saddest; a joy and melancholy not too far away from the story of our Irish family. The changes of the grave being that of Dermot and Grania are slim; there are many other last resting places for these two all over Ireland and I think the story may be older than Finn legends, older than the Eoganacht and older than the Celtic settlement of Ireland.

The early Celts were cattle herders and horse riders with a great love of hunting and fighting but also of poetry and prophecy. Each group valued independence and the larger groupings were flexible. But in the 5th Century Christian ideas began to take over from the pagan chivalric way of life and a courageous sanctity began to be added to the Celtic character. There is a shrine in Ballyvourney of St Gobnait (of St Abban) - one of the early Christian saints and the family has long been associated with this sacred place. The family are known as the erenaghs (or guardians) of the shrine and many are buried near the old church. Modern pilgrims still pause at “the tom of the three priests” or “tomb of the three brothers” who are said to be members of the family. The number of persons in the tomb varies a little according to the person who tells the tale and appears to increase in relation to the piety of the informant. But the family did provide large numbers of Parish Priests for the townland and one became the Bishop of Ross, attended the Council of Trent and later died in the Tower of London in 1580. Surprisingly perhaps what is developing is not an account of rough and savage tribesmen waging guerrilla war against invaders but of a family associated with scholarship and piety, though I imagine that some of the holy men could also wield a sword and there is one mention of a Herlihy accompanying O’Sullivan Bere in his incredible march to Ulster after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.

Cromwell invaded Ireland in 1649 and smashed resistance from the Irish chiefs. It is at that point that the Herlihy family lost the land that they had held previously to landlords set up by Cromwell. Perhaps it would be better to say Herlihy “families” for ten persons with the name Herlihy owned land on County Cork when the Civil Survey of 1654 was taken. After the Irish were dispossessed and in the bleak time that followed, ideals were kept alive by song and poetry. We have several songs composed by the Herlihy’s of Ballvourney and these give a glimpse of life in these times and also a window back into the past.

Before Cromwell, the family was known for its learning and poetry and local legend claims that the family was in the area before St Gobnait’s time. Certainly one of the songs claims this and also an ancestry from Eugene Mor and the Erainn. Festivals of poetry were held at the home of the Herlihy’s at Ballvourney - a house with the name of Tigh na Cille (The house of God’s Servants) and Eogan O’Reilly was one visitor. David, son of Patrick, was the owner of Tigh na Cille when the Cromwellian confiscations took place and although the new landlord, Colthurst, appears to have been a reasonable man David was eventually banished deeper into the mountains into Kerry near Kenmare. From there he composed a haunting song regretting the passing of the hospitality that used to be dispensed at his house and expressing sorrow that he could no longer help the members of his family who remained in the Ballyvourney area. He was still alive at the beginning of the 18th Century. His son Father William continued as Parish Priest for a few years after the confiscations but he was himself eventually removed from office and followed his father into exile.

Many of the family (or families) may well have stayed on in the Ballyvourney area under Colthurst but the next 100 years must have been hard times with increasing pressure from England to outlaw the Irish ways and customs and to circumscribe their religion. The clear story of our branch of the family begins in the Nohavaldaly parish area on the north west borders of County Cork on the opposite and northern side of the Derrynasaggart Mountains. At the same time the move was made from Ballyvourney to this area and it may not have been much before 1800.

William Herlihy had a farm in Nohaval which was divided between his sons Patrick (Pad) and James Jeremiah (Jim Jer). Pad’s son William had a daughter Katie who married Humphrey Moynihan whose son died on the farm in 1975 when the farm was sold to the Land Commission for redistribution. Jim Jer had thirteen children by, at least, two wives. The oldest son, William, settled in America in Chicago and the youngest son Jim moved to Deptford in London, England. The two farms must have supported the families during the famine times and into the confusions that followed but just before the Irish land war was finally concluded and farmers began to purchase the land from their landlords, just at the eleventh hour before Ireland moved into relative peace after the hardships of centuries.
Jim Jer was evicted from his farm and ended his days in a cabin near the churchyard where he is buried and where there is a monument to his brother Patrick who “died 2 February 1879 aged 82”. But the family had gathered enough money together to send its sons and daughters out to start a new life and to found new lines.

In the same general area as William’s farm in Nohaval there are several other farms where Herlihy’s have been in residence for some time. In Inchibeg near Rathmore is a farm where relationship is thought to be through John, a brother of Pad and Jim Jer. In Knockagree is another farm from which branch comes Bishop Donal Herlihy of Ferns and there is a marriage connection at least here. But one member of our family makes this branch to come from one of three brothers who moved into the area together at some unknown time in the past. The main difficulty lies in the magic number three for there always seems to be three brothers in all tales - is there not a tomb of three brothers at St Gobnait’s shrine? Nearby, at Gullane Dennis Herlihy claims that the farm has been in Herlihy hands for “150 years” and that there were “three brothers” who took land in the area after being “evicted from the castle down there” (Ballyvourney). We have no known link with this family. No doubt there are many farms in parts of south west Ireland where a similar tale is told.


This is a strange and romantic account with not much that can be tied to specific dates and people. But I have no doubt of its accuracy. I found it to be very rare that an oral tradition has been wrong whenever it can be checked. There is just no reason why people would embroider the facts told them by their parents or grandparents - all they might do is to forget. Up to 1980 there has been some link with the farmhouse and persons of the past. If I wait a few years more, there may be no memories to suggest even where to begin to look as modern small family groups scatter across the world. If we are to have some idea of our family history in the near past (and farther back) we need two things. We need to put down any wisps of memories or ideas from the past (eg Dennis Herlihy’s mention of the link with O’Sullivan Bere) and it would be fascinating to know where old established family farms are situated - there may well be some links with estate managers or landlords. If you can help with either suggestion please send a letter or get in touch. Obviously we will quickly go beyond the boundaries of Nohavaldaly Parish but a thousand hints go to make up a legend and I would like the legend to be more detailed than it is at the moment.


My relationship to the Herlihys

I have decided to list the little I have on my husband's Herlihy branch, gleaned by word of mouth from members, and send it off to any Herlihy researcher I discover, so that

1. It might be of use to you
2. You might let me know you are related to him sometime if you so discover

This could be inaccurate of course, as dates have not been checked, and only recent dates are at all certain.

William, of Nohoval, near Rathmore, Co Cork, Ireland, had three children that we know of: Pad (1797-1879), James Jeremiah ("Jim Jer") and John.

Pad had William, Julia, May, Lizzie and John.

We descend from James Jeremiah, who married at least three times and had 13 children, but little is known as to which mother yet, so as to which child is of which mother some of the below is a guess.

The first wife is unknown, but I think was the mother of William, who went to Chicago, and possibly Jeremiah, who went to Boston.

The second wife was Mary Cronin, and their children included Pat (17 March 1852 – 1920), who went to New Zealand, and possibly Catherine, who married Con Kelleher in 1878 and went to Seattle with him, and probably at least one other daughter, who also married seperately into the Kelleher family and ended up in Washington state in the US.

The third wife was probably my husband’s g-g-grandmother, Joanna Lynch. They had children at least James (1861-1938), who went to London.

John married Mary Riordan, and had at least William and Nora.

Pad’s William had at least Katie (1875- ) and Maggie. Pad’s Julia married a Clare. Pad’s John had Brendan, Nora, Bob, Maggie and Molly.

James Jeremiah’s William (To Chicago) had Frank J. (ca 1880), Joseph, Charles and possible 4 other siblings. James Jeremiah’s and Mary Cronin’s Pat (to New Zealand) married twice: first wife’s name unknown, second wife was Bridget Stackpoole (ca 2 Feb 1868-1948). The Catherine who married Con Kelleher (or maybe this is confused by the possible second Kelleher family) had Kathleen (?-ca 1999) (who married a policeman Pendergast (?-ca 1976), who died young, so there was no issue), an unnamed girl, Con and Jack. Each of Con and Jack are reputed to have “founded a dynasty” in Washington State. James Jeremiah and Johanna Lynch’s James (in London, married to City Councillor and public figure Mary O’Leary/Leary (ca 1866-1938)) had Johanna (Jo), Ellie, Mary, Michael Patrick (11 Jan 1896-24 Dec 1965), Kathleen (Kit), Margaret (Peg), John (1900 - ) and Agnes (later Mother Bernard).

John and Mary Riordan had at least William (who married Mary Home), and Nora.

Pad’s William’s Katie married Humphrey Moynihan and they had William (d. 1975), Nora (b. 1904, had a daughter Kathleen who married a Roche). Pad’s John’s Brendan was the Head of the De La Salle in Ireland – a teaching brother. Nora married O’Connell. Bob was a priest. Maggie married a Murphy. Molly married Patrick Neylon, a quiet man from Co Clare, and they had at least a son John who became a doctor.

James Jeremiah’s William’s (To Chicago) Frank J. (ca 1880) had a big family, including Frank (who married Betty), May (who had a daughter who became a doctor and psychiatrist and married someone with a Polish surname) and possibly three other girls and possibly Mary Louise and/or Alice? We hear Charles had several girls “who had coloured nails” (interesting what jogs people’s memories!).

James Jeremiah’s and Mary Cronin’s Pat (to New Zealand) married twice: first wife’s name unknown, but they had Mary (who married a Brennen and had Margaret (b. ca 1922 m. ca 1943 to someone surname Thomas b. ca 1920), Patricia and two boys who died fairly young. Second wife was Bridget Stackpoole (ca 2 Feb 1868-1948), and they had Patrick (b. 17 Feb 1904), who was a priest at Wellinton NZ with no issue, William (b. 14 June 1907) who had no issue, and Francis Jeremiah (Frank) (b. 14 Feb 1912 and still alive here in Australia on 9th Jan 2001 as I type this!), a St Columban missionary and priest retired and living in Essendon Australia.

James Jeremiah and Johanna Lynch’s James’s (in London, married to City Councillor and public figure Mary O’Leary/Leary (ca 1866-1938)) children turned out as follows:

Johanna (Jo) spent her early years bringing up the younger children, became a Civil Servant, never married. Lived to great age alive in 1980s.

Ellie School teacher – never married. Travelled on exchange teaching visits to Canada, USA and possibly New Zealand. Dead by the 1980s.

Michael Patrick (11 Jan 1896-24 Dec 1965), married Ethel Maisie Coveney (16 July 1896- 4 July 1982) m. 22 May 1920, had two sons James Michael Herlihy (8 April 1923 – ), and Bernard Charles (26 Dec 1925 - ), and each of these have children.

Mary married Maurice Davies, and had Michael and Moreen.

Kathleen (Kit) married C? McGough (always called Mac), had son Brendan. Both Mac and Brendan died of TB.

Margaret (Peg) unmarried, school teacher. Alive in 1980s.

John (1900 - ) m. Millicent, had sons Patrick (1934 - ) and Phillip, and each of these have children.

Agnes, Benedictine Nun – unmarried teacher (Mother Bernard).

John and Mary Riordan’s William (who married Mary Home) had John, Tim (who had Danny and Tim), Andrew and 10 more children. Nora has a grandson Finbar O’Keefe.

The last two bits I have more information on are those from

Michael Patrick and Ethel Maisie Coveney’s sons James Michael Herlihy (8 April 1923 – ) and Bernard Charles (26 Dec 1925 - ). Jim m. 6 Nov 1948 June Frances Morgan (b. 28 Nov 1928), and had Susan M (b. 18 Aug 1949 m. Stuart Begg) and Michael Laurence (b. 22 June 1951 m1. PD (Dale) McAllister (1953-17 July 1980), m2. Kay Clark, with children Sean (b. 1986) and Brett (b. 1990). Jim, Susan, Stuart, Michael, Kay, Sean, Brett are in Melbourne Australia on Jan 9, 2001. Bernie m. 12 April 1947 Kathleen Margaret Gawler (b. 16 April 1923), and had children Timothy Brendan (b. 22 Feb 1950), Sarah Kathleen (b. 21 Mar 1953) and Bridget Elizabeth (b. 29 June 1958). Tim m. 21 May 1971 Paula Ruth Tucker (b. 18 Mar 1949 – the person now writing) and they have sons Alan Maxwell (b. 14 Jul 1976) and Brian Timothy (b. 1 Jan 1978). Alan married Danielle Xerri March 2005; Brian married Lesley Chan Dec 12 2005 and they have daughter Gisele Eleanor Leia Suet-Kei born Dec 25 2006. Sarah m1. 22 Jan 1981 Zane Randall Woods (b. 7 Sept 1956), m2 7 Dec 1996 David Clark (17 Apr 1951) – no issue. Bridget m. 22 Jan 1983 Carl Douglas Read (b. 24 Oct 1946) and has son Caleb Nathaniel (b. 11 Nov 1987).


John (1900 - ) and Millicent’s sons. Patrick (1934 - ) m. Sybil and had David (m. Amy Heavner, with child Anna Monica), Jane (m. Michael Driscoll), Paula (m. Fred Mayland, with son Kristian Thomas). John and Millicent’s son Phillip married Jennifer, and they had Rachel, Cathrine (4 children from 3 fathers, John (b. Cain), Tyron (b. Tyrone), Mira (b. Ira), and Steven) and Anne (m. Paul James).

Why St Gobnait, Ballyvourney and Knocknagree?

Three years ago (September 2003) my husband Tim and I visited Ireland for two weeks. We had meant to hire a car and dash around catching a quick glimpse of everything, but found Cork, where the Herlihys originated, so fascinating that we skipped northern Ireland from lack of time.

We were directed to Ballyvourney and Knocknagree in County Cork by Tim's relative Pat Herlihy. Here is an excerpt from his writings on the Herlihy family to explain why we went there:

"...William Herlihy wrote an obituary for his grandfather David in 1670 and claimed that his family had been in Ballyvourney since before the time of Christ. This is poetic time, not actual. But it shows William's understanding of the ancient derivation of his ancestors.

St Gobnait came to Ballyvourney in 550AD and the Herlihy chief gave land to her to build a convent. The Irish FolkLore Society recorded several testimonies about it in the 1950's and an historian of the 18th century says that the then rulers of the parish gave land to St. Gobnait. She kept bees and saved the people from plague. But in the many years since then some of the associations of the pagan feast of Imbolc on 1st February have become attached to her and her feast on 11th February. Six or so of the more important members of the family group were now living in raths - small embanked and enclosed farmsteads within sight of each other. The distribution of these can still be seen on today's maps and the concentration is still in the east of the parish with the convent close to the centre of the settled area. There are signs of iron working in the convent to suggest a flourishing institution. The climate was milder now, farming flourished and the living was good. I suspect that iron was now readily available for tools as well as weapons and a coulter plough [with a knife at the front] would have permitted ploughing of grassland for the first time and an increase of food production.

After 600AD the historical period of written records gradually emerges. The arrival of Christianity produced a magnificent achievement in art and the preservation of ancient literature. Eventually Vikings plundered the richer monasteries from 800AD. But one reminder of the riches of the time remains in that it is possible to see a rich reliquary containing the arm of St. Lachtain in the National Museum in Dublin and this was originally kept in Kilnamartyra. There was also a gold statue of St. Gobnait. In the annals there are references to a tribe called the Muscraige in the area along the southern slopes of the mountains from Ballyvourney to Cork. To the south is an ancient tribe called the Corcu Loigde and to the north the Ciarriage. And between these older peoples were groups of a new and growing confederation of rulers who called themselves the Eoganaght. So Ballyvourney was a small unit in Muscraige Mittaine but the convent had thrived and the ruling family were becoming transformed into hereditary guardians of the whole parish for the church - to come under the lordship of the Bishop of Cloyne when dioceses were instituted around 1000AD.

In the 11th century a Romanesque church was constructed and it seems likely that someone took the pilgrimage to Compostella. Each family group in Ireland took the name of a grandfather as a surname and the leaders of Ballyvourney became O'Iarlath in place of the old tribal name. This became lost. There was a great antiquarian movement to research the past but unfortunately this was usually subverted by contemporary rulers to give quasi- historical justification for their current claims. The Normans invaded Ireland in 1166 - 100 years after conquering England. They conquered Muskerry at first before loosing the western part of it after the battle of Callan in 1261. O'Flynn ruled Muskerry then and had castles at Macroom and in Kilnamartyra but Ballyvourney was partly out of his jurisdiction as church lands. One authority on family names has suggested that the O'Herlihys moved in from the Uaithne tribe near the Shannon estuary about this time. These were another ancient Irish tribe. But I think not; there are too many clues and likelihoods to accept it.

The climate worsened in the early 14th century and the Black Death of 1348 was only the beginning of a whole series of epidemics. Population decreased and there was a regrowth of woodland. But the records of the diocese of Cloyne contain the first mention of the name O'Herlihy as priests and church officers from 1417 onwards. The O'Flynns were superseded by a branch of the MacCarthy dynasty but the erenaghs [Herlihys, Healys and Longs] were not ousted for they had the protection of the church. One Herlihy became a Bishop of Ross, attended the Council of Trent, was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth in the Tower of London and eventually retired to a cabin above Macroom. He is buried in Kilcrea Abbey.

During the Elizabethan wars O'Sullivan of Beare conducted an epic retreat from Kerry to the north and passed through Ballyvourney on his second day, fighting off attacks from MacCarthy enemies from Carrigaphooca castle.

Cromwell passed through Cork in 1649. But he left his generals to crush the local peoples. They took off the roof of the church to suggest desolation and hid the golden statue of St. Gobnait and other of her relics. The Colthurst family took over the parish as the new rulers. Many Herlihys remained as tenants for a time but were gradually forced out over the next 200 years. William Petty surveyed all the confiscated lands of Ireland in his Down Survey and there records 6 Herlihys owning lands in the parish. All were forfeit. The 6" Ordnance Survey maps of 1850 show some small fields with rounded boundaries interlocked with others of similar shape. The boulders in the walls suggest ancient construction and they are likely to be the small areas of "arable" recorded by Petty for 1650. It is possible to se that by then some settlement had spread into the western parts of the parish. David Herlihy, the chief of the parish, attempted to continue some of the traditional ways and held a court of poetry at his house - a poor remnant of the great bardic schools of the middle ages. And several of his family were priests. But before long he was banished and fled to Glen Flesk, over the hills to the north, where O'Donoghue held out against the newcomers for many years. His grandson, William composed a poem on his death that claimed ancient association with the older Erainn peoples of the south west, albeit in the muddled historic understanding that was the best knowledge of the time. Over the next 200 years the Colthursts became an important family in Co. Cork [George Colthurst owns Blarney castle], the forests were cut down for cash and much land was reclaimed to support the
growing, if desperately poor, population, in large rectangular fields.

Sometime, probably late, in the 18th century our branch of the family had to leave Ballyvourney and move to the even poorer land to the north of the Derrynasaggart Mountains called Slieve Luachra. It had been devastated in the Elizabethan wars. A flourishing monastery in Nohoval had been destroyed and the surrounding inhabitants had fled. Into this meagre land came several men with the family name. William rented a farm of 100 acres and had two sons, Pad and Jer. Pad was born in 1797 and his descendants lived in his half of the farm until it was sold in 1975. Jer's children all left for the five continents of the world. William [eventually] and Jerry for Chicago, Patrick for New Zealand, Jim for London, Catherine's family for Washington state, John to Africa [died in the Boer war] and Humphrey to India. Jer's older children were born before or over the famine years [1850] and are not recorded. But the area they grew up in
contained some of the best musicians and poets of the time - composing and playing traditional tunes. Owen Roe O'Sullivan died in 1784 in Knocknagree after being beaten up by the thugs of a local middleman. Padraig O'Keefe, the blind fiddler of the 1950s would have been taught by those who played in the farmers' houses a generation before. But by 1900 the families had mostly scattered, for a second time and now throughout the world."

Knocknagree is the town nearest the area of Upper Nohaval, where we found Pad and Jer's farmhouses still standing, and the ruins of a hut beside the graveyard at Upper Nohaval where someone told me Pad lived at one time as guardian of the graveyard (maybe in old age?).