The McCarthy Family of Cork

The McCarthys were over-lords of Corca Laidhe, at least since the 13th century, and received tribute from the chiefs of the district.

Previous to the Anglo-Norman invasion there were two branches of the family—McCarthy Reagh, who lived near Kinsale, was the head of one, and according to O’Donovan, the O’Donovans and O'Mahonys in 1636 paid him tribute; the head of the other branch was the Prince of Desmond, or King of Cork.

The Four Masters state that the Monastery of Timoleague was founded by McCarthy Reagh in 1240.

There were 160 castles in the County of Cork, 56 being built by Irish chieftains, and of these 26 were built by the McCarthys. There were 39 in Kerry, 29 having been built by the Irish.

The McCarthy family trace their descent to Eogan Mor, son of Olliol Olum, King of Munster in the second century.

Family names began to be assumed in Ireland about the 11th century. This family name is derived from Carthach, the son of Justin, King of Munster in the 11th century.

The great-grandson of Carthach was Diarmid Mor, who was Prince of Desmond, or King of Cork, at the arrival of the Anglo-Normans.

Diarmid surrendered Cork to Henry II., and an English governor and garrison were placed over it.

The following year he joined the army assembled by the monarch, Roderick O’Connor, and in 1177 he attacked the English and laid waste the city. Extracts from the Annals of Innisfallen:—

“1185, McCarthy again laid siege to Cork, but on this occasion was slain; the place was defended by Theobald Fitz-Walter, the founder of the house of Ormond. Same year, King John granted to Cork its first charter, with rights similar to those enjoyed by Bristol.”

“1195, the Prince of Desmond besieged Cork, but was prevented by dissensions amongst the chieftains who served under him from capturing the place. Its fall, however, was but delayed, for soon after McCarthy re-invested and carried it by assault.”

This Diarmid was unfortunate as regards his own family. His son rose up against him, cast him into prison, where he was harshly treated.

In these straits Raymond-le-Gros came to his assistance and set him at liberty. The grateful prince, for this act of kindness, bestowed upon him vast tracts of land about Lixnaw, in Kerry, where grew up the Clan Maurice.

The strangers were thus aided by the native chiefs to get a hold of the country, and their policy was to extend their territories by every means, just or unjust. Might to them was right.

They were constantly encroaching on the lands and rights of the native chiefs. Feuds and battles ensued, and the country laid waste.

Goaded by acts of injustice and plunder, the McCarthys flew to arms in 1267.

A battle was fought at Callan in Kerry where the Fitzgeralds were utterly defeated.

John Fitzgerald and his son Maurice, and several knights, and other gentlemen of the family, were slain.

The annalist says this defeat was so crushing that the Fitzgeralds durst not put a plough to the ground for twelve years afterwards.

But dissensions soon arose among the chiefs of Muskerry and Carbery, comprising the McCarthys, Driscolls, Donovans, Mahonys, Swineys, and they were so weakened that the Geraldines again assumed their old power and authority.

In the beginning of the fourteenth century the Desmond family became divided into two branches.

Cormac Mor, who flourished then, had two sons, Daniel and Diarmid.

Daniel, the elder, succeeded to the chiefry with the title of McCarthy Mor, and Diarmid became the founder of the house of Muskerry.

The McCarthy Mor after this period chiefly dwelt in the neighbourhood of the Lakes of Killarney.

His castle or residence, called Palace, was about four miles from Killarney to the north of the lake.

The ruins were standing till the year 1837 when, to the indignation of the whole people, they were removed by a road contractor in the night time for the repairing of the adjoining highway.

In 1510 Garret, Earl of Kildare, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, with O’Donnell of Tirconnell and a large army, entered Desmond, took the Castle of Palace and another on the river Mang. (Ann. Four Masters.)

In 1565 Donal McCarthy Mor was created Earl of Glencar and Viscount Valentia by Elizabeth.

The coronet weighed heavily on his brow.

His followers despised it and despised him for accepting it.

He accordingly removed it, and assumed it again as suited his interests.

In 1585 we find him attending as the McCarthy Mor in the Lord Deputy’s Parliament.

He died leaving a daughter Ileen, and an illegitimate son named Donnell, or Donogh.

Ileen married Florence, son of McCarthy Reagh of Carbery, who, thereupon, assumed the title of McCarthy Mor.

In 1601 Florence was made prisoner in Cork by Carew, Lord President of Munster.

He was committed to the Tower of London, where he was detained for forty years.

The male line of this house became extinct.

The family were connected by marriage with the Herberts, Browns, etc., to whom the once large estates of the family devolved.

The descendants of Diarmid, the founder of the house of Muskerry, dwelt at Blarney. They possessed a large portion of the County Cork.

In 1495 the chief was summoned to Parliament as Lord of Muskerry; in 1578, as Baron of Blarney; and in 1660, Donogh, the tenth chieftain, was created Earl of Clancarthy.

Cormac Laidir (the Strong), the fourth lord, who died in 1495, was a prince of distinguished valour; and was a munificent patron of the Church, art, and learning. It was he who built the Castle of Blarney and the Abbey of Kilcrea. The English settlers in Munster paid him a tribute for his aid and protection.

His successor was Cormac Oge Laidir. James, Earl of Desmond, in 1521 laid waste his territory. Cormac summoned the neighbouring chieftains to his assistance, pursued and overtook the Earl near Mourne Abbey, and inflicted on him a severe chastisement.

Father Rosario O’Daly, the historian of the Geraldines, says:—

“And here, at length, it happened that as if covered with a dark cloud the splendour of the Geraldines was obfuscated, not more through the bravery of the enemy, than their own rashness; for Thomas the Bald, uncle to the Earl, to whom on that day the command of the horse was committed, whilst inconsiderately he rushed with too impetuous a violence on his adversaries, breaks the phalanx of his own infantry; by which a way of victory is opened to the enemy, and, rather yielding to necessity than the foe, he deserts the field.”

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