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Sliabh Luachra

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History

Sliabh Luachra
The mountainy area along the Cork/Kerry border is known as Sliabh Luachra and was the uninhabited wet, marshy, rushy, mountain area of the old Kingdom of Luachra first noted in the “Annals of Inisfallen” in 534 when the King of Luacar won a battle against Tuathal Moel nGarb and again in 741 with the death of Cuaine, Abbot of Ferna and Flan Feórna, son of Cormac King of Luachra.

An Cathair Chraobhdhearg (The City) which was the first place in Ireland to be populated, is considered the centre of Sliabh Luachra, it is at the base of the twin mountains “An Dá Chich Dannan” the breasts of Danú (The Paps) and was the base of An Tuaithe De Dannan, who were an aristocracy of poets, artists, and musicians, who came to Ireland from Boeotia in Greece. It is the oldest centre of worship in the Western World. Danú was the Goddess of an Tuaithe De Dannan, she was daughter of Dagda who according to legend at the battle of Magh Tuireadh, which was fought between the Tuatha De Danann and the piratical Fomorians, saw his Harper Uaithne being taken away by the retreating pirates. He perused the fleeing group to their retreat and on recovering the harp he played the most ancient form of Irish music starting with the goltrai until the women wept, he played the geantrai until they all burst out in laugher and then he played the suantrai until they all fell asleep, after which he released his Harper and brought him back. A settled population did not populate the remaining thousand square miles of Sliabh Luachra until the Desmond rebellion, which ended with the death of Gerald Fitzgerald the 15th Earl Of Desmond in 1583. His last hiding place “Teach an Iarla” can still be seen cut into a glen in the heart of the Sliabh Luachra mountains near the source of the river Backwater. The rebellion resulted in the scorched earth policy of Queen Elizabeth’s army, which devastated much of Munster with men women and children put to the sword, land and crops burned resulting in a great famine. The song of the thrush or the lo of an animal was not to be heard from Ventry to Cashel. The poet Edmond Spenser who was Secretary to Lord Grey, commander of the Elizabethan army, best describes the plight of the early people of Sliabh Luachra .

The Plantation of Munster
Following this the plantation of Munster began with a half a million acres being declared Crown property and distributed among English landlords with the old population being ordered to Hell or to Connaught. Some of the dispossessed and thus poverty stricken people of Munster took refuge in Sliabh Luachra which was also Crown property with much of it recorded as mountain pastures but the authorities had despite their many efforts failed to get any landlord to take any of it

The survivors of the defeated confederate army later added to this group after the Battles of Knocknanuss, and Knockbrack. The battle of Knocknanuss took place on The 13th November 1647, this battle, was fought between the Confederate army and the army of the Parliament. The confederate army were led by Lord Taffe, who was assisted by a Scottish General and swordsman named Allister McDonnell who was known as Allistrim and was killed in the battle, he is still remembered in “Allistrims March” which was composed for the battle by the Sliabh Luachra poets and musicians, and the Allistrim Jig to which his wife danced on a half door at his grave in Clonmeen graveyard, and also the Slow Air “Gol na mBan san Ár” which is reputed to have been composed by his mother, foster mother, wife, and daughter. The army of the Parliament were led by Lord Inchaquin (O Brien of the burnings). The army of the Parliament won the battle which lasted for 4 hours with 4000 dead. The Battle of Knockbrack took place in 1651 where Lord Broghill led the army of the Parliament

With the army of the Confederation led by Lord Muskerry, again the army of the Parliament won the battle. Traditional Gaelic Ireland, which barely survived after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, reached its end after of these two battles, but in its defeat started the flowering of the old Gaelic Traditional culture in Sliabh Luachra.

The survivors of the defeated confederate armies from both battles took refuge in the Sliabh Luachra area, which was then a very inhospitable place with marshes, scrub woodland, wet rushy ground, no roads, fences, drainage, or services, but at least any authorities did not disturb them. Despite their poverty they lived reasonably happy lives, cultivating some of the wet mountain by hand to make land, to grow very basic vegetables and feed the few cattle. Their children getting a high level of education in the hedge schools around the area with many being fluent in Irish, English, Latin, and Greek. They provided their own entertainment by getting immersed in the old music, dance, poetry, and story telling, of Sliabh Luachra, which indeed became the property of the dispossessed.

Outlaws, Rebels and Raperees
This area remained undisturbed and unaccounted for, until the agrarian disturbances of the Rockite movement in the 1820s. The Rockite movement began in West Limerick in the summer of 1821. In the region around Newcastlewest a conflict between the land agent of The Courtenay estates Alexander Hoskins and the tenants led to the assassination of Hoskins son in July 1821. This conflict had been provoked by Hoskins harsh treatment of the tenants of the estate. His conduct had been criticised by many, including the under-secretary in Dublin Castle, William Gregory who had remarked that nothing could be more oppressive than the conduct of Lord Courtenays agent. Although this disturbance was the only instance of agrarian unrest in Munster at that time five regiments of troops were sent to quell it. The disturbance from this conflict spread into Sliabh Luachra. The first leader of the Rockite movement known as “Captain Rock” was a Patrick Dillane who may have come from the Sliabh Luachra area. Many of the leaders of the movement taking up hiding in Sliabh Luachra, led the then British Government becoming concerned about this area of about 960 square miles from which they were getting no return, and which they stated was a haven for outlaws, rebels, and rapperees, and since there were no roads or communications into the area it was impossible to control it.

Arising from this disturbance the Commissioners of his Majesties Treasurery had the area surveyed by Richard Griffith surveyor of the Department of Woods and Forestry, and James Weale Officer of the Revenue Department. In 1830 they produced the

“Report, on the Crown Lands of County Cork” (see report made by James Weale Here) which was debated in the House of Commons It pointed out the disadvantages of the area, that the people were rebellious, and that their wickedness went unpunished as the authorities could not get into them. It was also pointed out that farmers from North Kerry and parts of West Limerick would in the summer time take butter on a mountain path through the Rockchapel area on horse back, two firkins per horse to Newmarket where it was transferred to horse carts carrying 24 firkins and send on to the largest butter market in the world in Cork City. In 1830, these farmers send 30000 firkins valued at £52000, with much of it passing through the Rockchapel mountain path.

As a result of this report many roads were built in the area, including the road from Castleisland to Clonbanin, from Ballydesmond to Newmarket, and the new line road, along the Feale valley from Feales Bridge through Rockchapel to Newmarket The engineering work on these roads and bridges was done by Richard Griffith who later became well known in Ireland through his Griffith valuations of 1852. The village of Kingwilliamstown (Ballydesmond) was also built as a result of the report as was a model farm at Glencollins near Ballydesmond where it was demonstrated that good grass could be grown on peaty soil by the use of burnt lime. As a result many limekilns were also built round the Sliabh Luachra area. The new line road and the building of a church in 1833 and a school in 1847 started the formation of a community and village in Rockchapel.

Sliabh Luachra