“The Lament for Art O’Leary” –Part 3 of my Introduction to the famous Irish poem by his wife, Eileen Dubh O’Connell (1773)

In 1758 comes a significant event in Eileen’s life. At age 14 –in what seems to have been an unmitigated disaster– her parents arrange her marriage to a Mr. O’Connor of Fines, an “old man” who dies within six months. The young bride was “hauled home” to Fines, and in front of a large shouting, cheering crowd, Mr. O’C. lifts her over the threshold.
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Perhaps there is a clue here: in view of his superannuation, might it not be that Mr. O’C. was insufficiently circumspect in his exertions? It was noted that at the very same moment, the strings of a harp hanging in the hall suddenly snapped. This was taken as an unpropitious omen, an interpretation that any one of us might have hazarded.
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In any event, Eileen is now a very young widow. We are told that the fourteen year-old girl lamented over his body –a poignant image, to be sure, but indeed we might think it was her own lamentable situation that touched her more. She is soon back at Derrynane: it is noted that she seemed to “regret her loss of status.”
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Soon the family has occasion for another kind of lament.
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For many years there had been a clandestine traffic in young Irish recruits for various European armies. Now Marie Dubh’s youngest son, Daniel –later Count O’Connell– was leaving home. With four young relatives, and fourteen others, he sailed out of Derrynane harbor to join the Irish Brigade in France. Many before him had died on foreign fields. No doubt it was a sad day for Maire Dubh.
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In the wild, magnificent setting (–the restless Atlantic;the silver strand; a ruined Abbey nearby; dramatic mountain backdrop, families gathered for sad farewells; –a scene worthy of Grand Opera– we are told that Maire Dubh, the great Bean Caointe, sang the departing sloop of young recruits out of Derrynane harbor.
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This was yet another powerful event that teenage Eileen Dubh would have witnessed. And soon afterwards came the drowning death of brother Conall in 1765.
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AT ABOUT THE SAME TIME ART O’LEARY himself left for Austria, and Maria Theresa’s army. In three years Eileen would marry the returned Art: within 10 years she would lament his death.
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ON THE WAY TO CARRAIGANIMA
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In 1762, Eileen’s sister Mary married James Baldwin of Clohina, near Macroom. We are told that Eileen was introduced to Art at Mary’s home, having first seen him by the markethouse in Macroom Town Square from the window of a friend’s house.
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Art was tall, handsome, and –by all accounts– hot-blooded. It is a whirlwind romance. Art seeks her hand in marriage. Eileen’s parents refuse: Art is too wild; he is an unsuitable match.
But Eileen has already suffered their idea of a “suitable” match. She and Art elope. On December 19th, 1767, in the newspaper, a notice: “Married, Mr. Arthur O’Leary, Macroom, to the Widow Connor of Iveragh.” They go to live at Rath Laoi, a pleasant 18th C. house near Macroom. Art has it done up; Eileen is very happy; nine months later, little Conor is born.
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[End of Part Three: Part Four introduces Abraham Morris, who is the High-Sheriff in the Macroom district. He and Art will fall afoul of each other. There is a fateful horserace in which Art defeats Morris’s horse handily. Whereupon, the Englishman invokes one of the Penal Laws whereby an Irishman HAS to sell his horse to any Englishman who demands it, and for a maximum of five pounds.
Thus starts an enmity that we sense can hardly end well. [More next time.]


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