Holy Island was the site of the 6th century monastery of St. Finbar. The present Church is just over a hundred years old in a style also seen in Cormac's Chapel on the Rock of Cashel. The head of St. Finbar crowns the elaborately carved doorway.
Near the Oratory is an enclosure that marks the site both of the monastery of St. Finbar and the retreat of Fr. Denis O'Mahony, a Priest of the Penal Era. The monastery of St. Finbar was probably of wattle and daub construction, so we don't know the precise location. However, the inscription on the cross, in Latin, Irish and English reads: Here stood in the 6th century, the cell of St. Finbarr, first Bishop of Cork." Nearby, a slab bears the inscription: "This place of devotion was dedicated unto Almighty God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary and unto St. Finn Bary in the seventeenth century of our Lord, by the Rev. Denis O'Mahony, who after the erecting of these buildings, made them his residence till the end of his religious days in this world..." Just to the east of this enclosure is a ruined chapel that appears to have been the chapel used by Fr. O'Mahony. Fr. O'Mahony died in 1700 and was burried in a grave near the entrance to Holy Island. The Cork poet J.J. Callanan is also commemorated by a simple cross here. He wrote a poem on Gougane including the lines:
There is a green island in lone Gougane Barra
Where Allua of song rushes forth as an arrow.
In deep-valley'd Desmond - a thousand wild fountains,
Come down to that lake from their homes in the mountains.
The Lee leaves Gougane and flows east past Ballingeary and opens out into another lake, the famous Lough Allua. At Ballingeary, during the terrible days of the Black and Tans the forces of the British Crown would regularly harrass Mass-goers as they left. On 10 November, 1920 as they left the scene of the murder of an unarmed young man, they jeered to the Parish Priest, Fr. Donncha Ó Donnchú that "there's work for you back there". A month later in Dunmanway the Parish Priest Canon Magner was shot on the street in a revenge execution by a British Auxiliary called Harte.
Leaving Lough Allua, the Lee flows past Inchigeela. At Curraheen, about two miles from Inchigeela, on the right hand side of the road there is to be found another monument to the suffering of the Irish under the Penal Laws. A rough stone altar stands below a crag. A metal plate reads "Altar of Penal Times, Mass was said here 1640-1800". From here, the Lee flows towards Macroom, where the Castle once housed Archbishop Rinuccini, Papal Legate to the Catholic Confederacy of the 17th century, and enters the magnificent Gearagh, a sort of Cork Everglades.
To the east of the Gearagh is Carrigadrohid, where the castle stands guard on a stone outcrop over the bridge and the river. The castle was built by the MacCarthys of Muskerry. In April of 1649, during Cromwell's rampage through Ireland an officer of his forces named Broghill laid siege to the castle. When the castle wouldn't surrender he brought the Bishop of Ross, Dr. Boetius Egan, out from imprisonment in Macroom and stood the elderly Bishop before the castle and threatened to hang him if the castle would not surrender. Bishop Egan shouted to the defenders to hold out. Enraged by the Bishop's defiance but true to his word, Broghill hanged the Bishop of Ross there and then before their eyes. The castle held out but not for long. The castle fell to a simpler trick. Broghill ordered his forces to cut down trees of about the size of cannon and had them yoked to oxen and deployed around the castle. By this means, they forced the defenders to parlay.
A happier story of Carrigadrohid relates to Donal O'Sullivan who caught a leprechaun one day. The leprechaun shouted for him to look out for MacCarthaigh's bull that was charging down upon them. Donal turned to look and the leprechaun escaped. A year later, Donal caught him again in a bush near the river. This time the leprechaun cried out to Donal to look at MacCarthaigh's daughter coming up the path. Donal coundn't resist, turned to look and the leprechaun escaped. A third time Donal caught him and the leprechaun shouted in vain about bulls and boars and goats and girls but Donal held him fast and got the pot of gold, with which he bought the bull and the castle and married the daughter.
[UPDATE] Since I posted this, my attention has been drawn to a poem that refers to the incident in 1649 that I mentioned above. I reproduce it here:
THE BISHOP OF ROSS
By Dr. Madden
Author of the "Lives of the United Irishmen"
I.The tramp of the trooper is heard at Macroom;
The soldiers of Cromwell are spared from Clonmel,
And Broghill - the merciless Broghill - is come,
On a missionof murder which pleases him well.
II.the wailing of women, the wild ululu,
Dread tidings from cabin to cabin convey;
But loud though the plaints and the shrieks which ensue,
The war-cry is louder of men in array.
III.In the park of Macroom there is gleaming of steel,
And glancing of lightning in looks on that field,
And swelling of bosoms with patriotic zeal,
And clenching of hands on the weapons they wield.
IV.MacEgan, a prelate like Ambrose of old;
Foresakes not his flock when the spoiler is near,
The post of the pastor's in front of the fold,
When the wolf's on the plain and there's rapine to fear.
V.The danger is come, and the fortune of war,
Inclines to the side of oppression once more;
The people are brave - but, they fall; and the star,
Of their destiny sets in the darkness of yore.
VI.MacEgan survives in the Philistine hands,
Of the lords of the Pale, and his death is decreed;
But the sentence is stayed by Lord Broghill's commands,
And the prisoner is dragged to his presence with speed.
VII."To Carraig-an-Driochead this instant," he cried,
"Prevail on your people in garrison there,
To yield, and at once in our mercy confide,
And your life I will pledge you my honour to spare."
VIII."Your mercy! Your honour!" the prelate replied,
"I well know the worth of : my duty I know,
Lead on to the castle, and there, by your side,
With the blessing of God, what is meet I will do."
IX.The orders are given, the prisoner is led,
To the castle, and 'round him are menacing hoards:
Undaunted, approaching the walls, at the head,
Of the troopers of Cromwell, he utters these words:
X."Beward of the cockatrices - trust not the wiles,
Of the serpent, for perfidy skulks in its folds!
Beware of Lord Broghill the day that he smiles!
His mercy is murder! - his word never holds!"
XI."Remember, 'tis writ in our annals of blood,
Our countrymen never relied on the faith,
Of truce or of treaty, but treason ensued -
And the issue of every delusion was death!"
XII.Thus nobly the patriot prelate sustained,
The ancient renown of his chivalrous race,
And the last of old Eoghan's descendants obtained,
For the name of Ui-Mani new lustre and grace.
XIII.He died on the scaffold, in front of those walls,
Where the blackness of ruin is seen from afar;
And the gloom of its desolate aspect recalls,
The blackest of Broghill's achievements in war!
[First Published on the St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Blog in September, 2009]