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The O’Leary Castle of Inchigeelagh

Searching for the Old Family 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’.

The Castle emerges from the trees in the distance.

 

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.

An overwhelming job to renovate.

 

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 four legged creature bearing large sharp teeth and a long tail? 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

 

The old Parish Church ruins in Inchigeelagh.

 

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. Some of the first names included: Cornelius, Daniel, Ellen, Hannah, Jeremiah, Jeremy, John, Julia, Katty, Margaret, Mary, Michael, Nellie, Norah, Patrick, Peter, Sean and Timothy.

 

Sean O’Leary

 

Cornelius O’Leary

 

Jeremiah O’Leary

 

We were surrounded by O’Learys in the Inchigeelagh Graveyard.

 

Tony O’Leary taking in the history associated with the old church ruins.

O’Leary Ancestors

If you are searching for O’Leary ancestors the old Inchigeelagh church graveyard is a 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. I’m sure they will reading Tom Carlson’s comment below.

My local chieftain (I let him think that) and husband Tony O’Leary 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.

45 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

      1. Sean Donohoe says

        Just one more btw.

        Another creedon interested in history and named is John creedon who has a nightly show on RTE one the Irish public broadcasting channel.
        He can be tuned into by internet Monday to Friday Irish time 20.00 to 22.00

        Slan go fhail.

    3. Colleen Condon O'Leary says

      Most Irish families, especially in the US, tended to name their children after relatives even though their sibling may have named their children the same first name. We have so many Michaels, Patricks and my husband’s O’Leary side excels in Johns and James.

  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!

    2. Cynthia O’ Leary says

      My son sent me this. We are going to check out the O’Leary heritage in a couple of weeks. So excited to check out my heritage.

  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.

      2. John Overend says

        We visited in 2016 and Joe Creedon was a great help he keeps a lot of information birth deaths married records at the pub

  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!

    3. Gina M Whipple says

      I have found several groups now calling themselves O’Leary clan, and I’m wondering how to tell which one it is. Also, I think your wife is my cousin.

    4. Debbie says

      Very good! I just found out that I am attached to the name O’Leary, in my family tree! 💚☘️

  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

      1. maureen butler says

        Thank You Sol appreciate your help

  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?

  14. Lois Martin says

    Hello, I have been trying to find out who my great great grandparents were for over 20 years now. What I have so far is: My great Grandfather told my mother that the family let the “O” run down the hill, ha ha! So the name became Leary. He was John J. Leary born in 1851 in NH, USA. His parents he said came from County Cork, I believe (not positive though) that his father was Daniel O’Leary / Leary … my mothers father was Daniel Francis Leary born in 1899 (9+/- a year or two). I know once the Leary’s immigrated to the USA they lived in Maine, NH, VT and Massachusetts, settling in Lowell, Massachusetts where John J. Leary died in 1926. Any reccomendations on how I can find out who John J. Leary’s parents were? thank you so much! Lois

    1. Sol says

      Hi Lois
      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. Many O’Learys came from this area of Co. Cork. He might be able to help. Also have you got John J. Leary’s Death Certificate or Immigration papers? Australian Death Certificates provide excellent information in relation to where the deceased was born, but I’m not sure if it’s the same in the US. Try and find the ship he sailed on to the US as the passenger list might give you a clue. Good luck with your search.
      Regards
      Sue

    2. John Pesa says

      My grandfather was named John J. Leary. He was born circa 1914. He grew up and raised his family in Newburyport, MA. I was told that his people came from Inchigeela, County Cork, Ireland.

  15. Dan O'Riordan says

    Taking a chance here. My Mary Leary married Timothy Riordan Feb 11, 1832. Looking to learn more about Mary and her family, maybe a connection here?

    1. Sol says

      You have me stumped Dan! My husband’s G Grandfather Edward O’Leary arrived in Australia in 1860 and settled in Auburn a small town in the Clare Valley of South Australia. The only information I have of Edward’s life in Ireland is from his Death Certificate which states that he was born in Carrick-on-Suir in 1841. On our trip to Ireland we went to Carrick-on-Suir (worth a visit if you go to Ireland) to see if we could find out any more information, but sadly there were no records of the family at the Heritage Centre. Does your Mary have any connection to Carrick-on-Suir?

  16. Barbara Leary says

    I just came across this while researching Inchigeelagh and want to thank you for such a wonderful set of photos and history of the O’Leary family. My great grandfather’s name is Cornelius O’Leary so imagine my surprise to see a headstone with his name on it. I am planning to research this connection. He immigrated to the US in what appears to have been 1869 so I am wondering if the headstone in your photo was a parent or grandparent. As it turns out there are a few Cornelius Learys in various records and it appears the O was dropped after arriving in Portsmouth NH where he is buried. This helps me in my search and again, thank you for this great post and the links to additional research possibilities!

    1. Sol says

      Thanks Barbara! I’m so pleased you found the post helpful. Enjoy your research!

      1. Sean Donohoe says

        Irish census records of 1901 and 1911 are easily available online.
        My mother is O’Leary and her father and three of his children two males with OLeary were the only ones of his family to remain in Ireland where I am now. Among my O’Leary first cousins four males have the surname one female does not and one female does
        .Beyond that I have only 3rd cousins who are O’Leary in Ireland and I do not know any of them. In Ireland also old census records often show as Leary rather than O’Leary. O’Leary is already the English language version of the Irish name. However depending on census clerks at the time the name may have been even more anglicised.
        Do not be put off by it though because you are generally on the right direction ancestral direction.
        A lot of similar male names show up in particular families and O’Leary is similar.
        It is also important to note that Cork is surrounded by other Munster counties where Olearys who did not emigrate abroad would have moved to while county borders have been fluid.
        What I have noticed however is while the O’Leary files were big that is many children there does not appear to have been very many family units.
        The male names to look out for among reaching back into 19th century are Daniel , Cornelius, John ,James, Arthur and of course Patrick
        A lot of Cornelius appear but do not worry too much because if he isn’t a direct ancestor in 19th century he is likely to be a sibling or close cousin
        named after an Uncle Grandfather or very occasionally a great grand father but the closet you get to birth in 18th century you will be back into interesting territory around West cork and Kerry and interesting ancestors. That territory was largely unofficially free and Irish
        and geographical/ancestral roads will bring you to inchhgeelagh.
        Rember since you are alive an ancestor will exist. Tipperary is also a relevent Munster county.

        There is no more I can add or help with so good luck and happy searching even if you have to go down an ancestral road and have to turn left or right or occasionally reverse. 😊

        Ps please do not email me or share it as a mail will be filtered into spam.💛

        1. Sol says

          Great advice Sean. Thank you for commenting. My husband’s G Grandfather, Edward O’Leary was born in Carrick-on-Suir in 1841 and his father’s name was James, according to his death certificate. That’s as far back as I’ve been able to go with my O’Leary family research. Although, I’ve been down many rabbit holes (should say warrens!).
          Cheers
          Sue

  17. Don O'Leary says

    Have been in Inchigeelagh eight times since 1996 & know Joe Creedon personally. Have been in the castle (tower house) before & after renovations, since 1998, except for the current renovation in process now, by the new owners Tom & Shawn (O’Leary) Carlson. Looking fwd to get over there one last time to see the finished product & walk up the circular stairway again. The clan has a reunion every year in September (2nd weekend) but the last two were on Zoom because of the Covid restrictions. This year (2022) there are 70 people signed up to attend for a weekend of craic & renewal of old friendships.

    1. Sol says

      Sounds fantastic Don. All of those O’Learys together sounds like a lot fun. Would love to revisit Inchigeelagh and see the renovated ‘castle’. I hope Tom and Shawn can provide us with on-line tour when the work is completed.

  18. Patrick E. Mears says

    Greetings, All: Tracking down the origins one’s O’Leary relatives is quite a chore, which I’ve been engaged in for many years now. My O’Leary relatives emigrated from the area to the northeast of Millstreet in County Cork during Famine times and settled in Genesee and Lapeer Counties, where most farmed but at least one, John Charles O’Leary (1832-1920) engaged in the timber trade and eventually moved to Sherman County, Oregon circa 1877. My O’Leary great-great-grandfather was named Cornelius and owned a very impressive farm east of Drishane Castle. Cornelius and his wife, whose maiden name appears to be Mary Williams, emigrated to St. Lawrence County, New York and their remains are buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Brasher Falls there. My great-grandparent, Mary Ann O’Leary Cronin, married Philip John Cronin in Millstreet, and this couple emigrated to NYC in 1850 with their infant son, another Cornelius. Some time thereafter, this family moved first to Dryden Township and then to Oregon Township, Lapeer County, Michigan, where they owned fairly large farms. Mary Ann O’Leary Cronin and one of her brothers, Dennis (who likely was her twin), died within months of each other in 1881. The Immaculate Conception Church in Lapeer City has a large, stained glass window in its west nave dedicated to Mary Ann and her husband, Philip, who followed her to the grave in 1883.
    It appears that my family may have a connection to Daniel Florence O’Leary, who was Simon Bolivar’s chief aide-de-camp and who collected and preserved Bolivar’s papers, which form the kernel of historical research on “The Liberator.”
    If anyone out there has any information concerning my O’Leary ancestors and Daniel Florence, please respond here. I would greatly appreciate any assistance you might be able to lend. Ar aghaidh,

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