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The O’Leary Castle of Inchigeelagh

Searching for the old O'Leary Castle

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The O’Leary Castle of Inchigeelagh

The O’Leary Castle of Inchigeelagh, or ‘Carrignacurra’ castle is the last remaining O’Leary castle. Built in the 16th Century it stands beside the picturesque River Lee in a remote part of County Cork.

Carrignacurra Castle, Inchigeelagh, Co. Cork (https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/town-and-country-where-will-225-000-get-you-1.3358940)

Googling for O’LEARY information unearthed an advertisement saying that ‘Carrignacurra’ Castle in Inchigeelagh, County Cork had been sold. The Castle, a four-storey tower house built in the late 16th century was apparently the “seat of the O’Leary family”. It became a must-see on our Irish road trip but it meant a drive into a remote part of County Cork.

Still Standing Tall – The O’Leary Castle at Inchigeelagh

Lost in County Cork

Heading north-west from Cork city and despite putting Inchigeelagh into ‘TomTom’ we became lost in a maze of narrow, winding roads, T-junctions and intersections with no signposts. Imagine driving here at night! Temper frayed from the O’Leary in the driver’s seat. Eventually, we came across a man building a dry stone wall. “Can you tell us where we’d find the O’Leary Castle?” we asked. “No! But I could build you one,” he said with typical Irish humour.

After many twists and turns, a sign emerged saying “The Parish of Inchigeelagh” with a picture of a castle.
Sure enough, it was ‘Carrignacurra’ castle and the sign said it was the first O’LEARY Castle to be built. It is also the last remaining castle of the O’Leary clan.

A Sign at Last!

Side-tracked by a Holy Grotto

Before driving on something caught our eye to the right of the sign.  There was a tiny waterfall and an intriguing natural rock formation adorned with religious statues and offerings. We had found, by accident, the Rossmore Holy Grotto.  The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Fiona Tierney in this place from 1987-1997. Mary told Fiona that Her son Jesus had blessed the stream’s water: “Drink from it and take it home to the sick.” I took a sip – of course

Rossmore Holy Grotto, Inchigeelagh

The Castle Emerges

Back on the road and before long we could see the towering castle. It was an imposing sight through the trees as we approached the village, but it wasn’t easy to get to. After asking directions we again found ourselves driving along narrow local lanes not registering with ‘TomTom’.

Eventually, the castle came into clear view. Wrapped in ivy and standing in an overgrown field beside the River Lee it oozed medieval charm. We parked the car beside a derelict bridge spanning the river and walked toward the castle watched on by a nearby farmer.  Noticing his interest we wandered over and asked if we could look inside the castle and assumed he meant OK when he shrugged his shoulders and said: “Best to seek permission first than to seek forgiveness later.”

There was nothing keeping us out of the castle, so we risked wandering in. The previous owners had started to renovate but it seems they had surrendered and laid down their tools, overwhelmed by the level of work involved.

The winding, narrow, stone staircase beckoned but with only a phone for light and no handrail, it was a hazardous exercise. I managed to get to the second floor but felt increasingly uneasy. There was no way I could climb any further. What if I came face to face with a large Rattus rattus?  After turning around I tentatively made my way down wishing there was a safety rail to grab rather than the wall for balance.

Steep! If only there was a handrail!

We didn’t stay inside for long, but standing in the dark and silence surrounded by the thick stone walls we felt connected to the old O’Leary families.They were brave people, adhering to their Roman Catholic faith after it was outlawed during the Reformation. But imagine their fear and terror during those bloody days of the Cromwellian invasion.

O’Leary Rebels

According to Iain Gray’s booklet on Irish families, O’Leary chief, Auliffe O’Leary and his kinsman Mahon O’Leary became rebels and travelled northward to fight in the Nine Years War with the O’Neill’s. The rebels successfully employed guerrilla warfare tactics against Crown forces in several major battles. However, the resistance didn’t hold up.  The O’Learys and other rebels were punished for their active role in the rebellion by having their lands  confiscated.

O’Leary Lands

A sign at the five-hundred-year-old local cemetery said it took many years for Reformation changes to “… reach remote places such as Inchigeelagh, and the local Chieftains, the O’Learys and their followers, clung fiercely to their old Religion. After 1700 the old lands of the O’Learys were sold by the Hollow Sword Blade Company to a number of new Protestant Landlords, and they, in turn, brought in Protestant tenants, when they could be persuaded.”

The Old Parish Church of Inchigeelagh and Graveyard

When we walked into the old church ruins and graveyard at Inchigeelagh we knew we were in O’Leary territory as  ‘O’Leary’ headstones were everywhere.

Sean O’Leary
Cornelius O’Leary
Jeremiah O’Leary
We were surrounded by O’Learys in the Inchigeelagh Graveyard

O’Leary Ancestors

If you are searching for O’Leary ancestors the old Inchigeelagh church graveyard is  good place to start along with Creedon’s hotel.

The Future of the O’Leary ‘Carrignacurra’ Castle – A New Reformation

We discovered that Americans bought the Castle and will continue a restoration process. Hopefully, they are interested in preserving and respecting the history contained within the walls and in some small way keep the O’Leary legend alive.

My local chieftain (I let him think that) and husband Tony O’Leary (O’Grumpy for short) was a bit chuffed about finding the O’Leary lands, their castle and to walk in his ancestors’ footsteps.

 

1. Iain Gray, ‘O’Leary – The origins of the O’LEARY family name and their place in history’, LangSyne Publishing, 2016

Revised and adapted from the story ”An Irish Road Trip’ I wrote for The Ancestral Searcher, Vol. 41 No.4 December 2018, The Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc.

26 Comments
  1. Jeff O'Leary says

    This may sound like a ridiculous question, but I am trying to trace my family history and I just recently came across a reference to Inchigeelagh. Is there any person(s) or organization that can help me investigate if my family did come from Inchigeelagh?

    My grandfather always said his grandfather came from County Cork, but I cannot find any records beyond him living in the US in about 1850. The problem is his name was Timothy O’Leary, which is obviously a common name in Ireland.

    I would greatly appreciate any assistance. I don’t even know if this is a forum to ask such questions.

    1. Sol says

      Dear Jeff
      The graveyard in the old church ruins at Inchigeelagh is the final resting place of many O’Leary’s. It is quite possible that your family lived in the area. Most O’Leary’s ended up in West Cork we were told at the Cobh (pronounced “Cove”) Heritage Centre. Cobh was the port where many Irish people emigrated from. Searching for Irish ancestors is notoriously difficult, however, more parish records have become available. But, start with the US records – which ship took Timothy O’Leary to US? Ship/immigration records should tell you the area he came from in Ireland. Can you get Timothy’s Death Certificate/Marriage certificate? They may help. Then plunge into the Irish records. It’s all good fun.
      Regards
      Sue O’

    2. Sol says

      Hi again Jeff
      I received a comment today from ‘Joan’ who advises: “Address all your questions to Creedon’s Hotel, Inchigeelagh, Co. Cork. All O’Leary’s came from around there – area known as ‘UibhLaoire’ in Irish.” Hope this will help. Sue

  2. Joan says

    Address all your questions to Creedon’s Hotel, Inchigeelagh, Co Cork. All O’Learys came from around there – area known as ‘UibhLaoire’ in Irish.

    1. Sol says

      Thanks so much for that information Joan. Fabulous.

      PS The publican was away when we visited!

  3. Terri Ebidon says

    Just found this page tonight. I am so excited. My great great grandparents were from CO Cork. that is all the family Bible said. I know George O’Leary returned to Ireland and left Margaret and the children in Chicago.

    1. Sol says

      Great to hear. It’s worth a visit Terri if you can get there. See comment below re Creedon’s Hotel in Inchigeelah.

  4. James OBrien says

    I am an OLeary by my grandmother from my father . Her family came from Kinsale with Stephen being the Gr gr gr grandfather and married to Ann of Bandon leaving the ole sod to arrive in Boston Area before the famine and civil war

  5. Jeff O'Leary says

    Dear Sue and Joan,

    Thank you for your help, I will be looking into this further. I just hope I live long enough to find relatives in Ireland.

    Jeff

  6. Laura says

    Dear all,
    Any O’Leary wanting to research their family should consider having their DNA researched. You can get a kit thru Ancestry.com. Then visit The O’Leary Clan Forum on Facebook. Many are finding groups of O’Learys who have similarities in their DNA at that site. The Clan Forum will educate you on DNA. In the meantime there are many O’Leary sites online. Go to Google.com and type in “O’Leary Family Genealogy.” You will love reading and learning about it. Those of you who have male ancestors with unusual or less used given names might have an easier time of it.
    You are very fortunate if you have his wife’s maiden name also. I have not been so lucky-my grgrandfather’s name was John O’Leary. I have read that 400 Irishmen who came to North America had the same name. Good luck to you all!

    1. Sol says

      Thank you Laurabeth. Great advice. I only wish I could get my husband to do the DNA test. I ordered it months ago and it still sits on his bedside table! The Clan forum sounds terrific. Many thanks. Sue O’

  7. Bevan Carney says

    Our Patrick Carney born Patrick Kearney in Inchigeelagh on the 24th March 1822 was transported to Australia on the “Blackwell” from Cobh in 1835. He was sentenced to 7 years in November 1834 for petty theft at the Cork City court. This was the same year the British finally abolished Salvery in the British Empire and also the same year they introduced the new Poor Tax. Red Cloud, one of the most important Indian Chiefs of the mid 1800 was also born in 1822 in Nebraska.
    In 2022 I’m hoping to be part of a walk yet to be fully organised around Cork and the Lee River Valley. Is there any Kearney’s that still live in Inchigeelagh or county Cork? Pelican Waters, Queensland, Australia 🇦🇺

    1. Sol says

      Hi Bevan why not try contacting Creedon’s pub in Inchigeelagh (see a comment below). The Publican may be able to help with your query. I have Kearney ancestors who came from Co. Armagh/Co. Down and most probably the Eglish parish (NI). I was told there are many Kearneys in /Kilkeel in Co. Down (NI).

  8. Connie Deluco says

    i am also researching heritage ..born O’Leary and have been researching Cork County area, dont have alot of information about my grandfather and his family, who are now deceased..still searching and some day I will visit…

    1. Sol says

      Hi Connie
      I hope you get to visit Ireland one day and see where your ancestors came from. It really is beautiful.
      Regards
      Sue

  9. Kathy Halloran O'Leary says

    My husband, Timothy O’Leary siblings have tested 100% Irish via Ancestry. My kids are very close , one at 98% and one at 94% Irish. We discovered Tim’s great grandfather died in Boston, MA at age 30 from meningitis shortly after arriving from Crookstown,Cork. We found a local book, Kilmurry Volunteers: Climax on the Road to Independence, indicating grandfather Daniel O’Leary was a quartermaster with the Irish Volunteers prior to immigrating to Boston. We have been so lucky in our search which began with a very wild immediate hit on 1901 and 1911 census’ for Daniel.
    How can I get more information on his parents from the census? I have been told by a cousin that Denis and his wife Ellen (Crowley or Crawley)were buried in Inchigeelagh and not Crookstown as Denis is originally from Inchigeelagh . Where might i look for death records, grave/burial information ?

    1. Sol says

      Hi Kathy
      These might help 1) https://historicgraves.com/graveyard/inchigeelagh/co-ingl
      2) https://registers.nli.ie/
      I’d also be inclined to contact Joe Creedon, publican of the Inchigeelagh Hotel. He might be able to help. Good luck with your search.
      Regards
      Sue

      1. kathy says

        Thank you Sue, I appreciate it.

  10. Kathy Halloran O'Leary says

    Let me add Daniel (DOB 1901) was one of 7 that we are aware of (Timothy, Jeremiah, Cornelius, Humphrey, Daniel, John, Nora). Denis would be dob abt 1861 and Ellen dob abt 1863.

  11. Tom Carlson says

    We are the new “American” owners of the O’Leary castle, Carraig na Curragh (Carrignacurra in English). We are restoring it to its ultimate configuration. (It went through constant modification throughout history.) It will be open for you to stay in it, hold weddings, corporate events and such. We will hold local traditional music, living history and drama events. We are also opening a museum, armory, historic clothing shop, gift shop and cafe. ( We are looking forward to hosting Medieval weddings and corporate events where everyone is outfitted in the clothing of the era of their choice. )
    Keep in touch with the O’Leary Clan on Facebook.

    1. Sol says

      That’s so good to hear Tom. When we can all travel again from Australia we will certainly make another trip to beautiful Ireland and book a stay! 🙂

    2. Julie B McDonald says

      That’s wonderful!

  12. Maureen Butler says

    I have a Denis Leary married to Honora McCarthy their children were Arthur ,Denis, Michael Julia and Timothy all born in Inchigeelagh. Denis’s Snr’s father was Jeremiah. Arthur My GGGrandfather was transported to Tasmania as a convict. I cant find any information on Honora (Nory) McCarthy, Can anyone offer any help. Thank You

  13. Pat Davis says

    My great grandmother Joanie O ‘Leary Barry is buried by the Protestant church which was a Catholic Church before it was confiscated.

    1. Sol says

      Thanks Pat. Where is your G Grandmother, Joanie, buried?

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