In April 2001, my wife Lorraine and I were in Ireland to visit our daughter Louise, who was then working in Dublin. With the obligatory visit to my gg grandfather's village of Ballyvourney, I looked up two gentlemen mentioned in one of my uncle's notes on the family history. One of these was Micheal O'LIONARD  who presented me with the following extract from a book that contained a few mentions of four generations of HERLIHY  families. Micheal had added several handwritten notes that I have added at the end in italics. There were also footnotes from the text and these are not in italics.

Jim Herlihy, 21 December 2003

"THE POETS OF MUSKERRY "  by Donnacha O'Croinin

(Written approximately 1980 - JH)

Extracts from the book concerning the O'HERLIHY family

Egan O'RAHILLY visited the Court of Poets held at the home of the O'HERLIHY's  in Ballyvourney and composed a poem in praise of his hosts. This was 260 years ago and David O'HERLIHY's son-in-law spoke the welcome to Egan.1

Information on the family.

The old people of the area claimed that they were in the area before the coming of St Gobnait and that they had been chosen as the protectors of the shrine.

A court of poets was held in Tigh na Cille (The House of the Churchyard) 2 in the 17th century and the O'HERLIHY's then owned the lands of Ballyvourney except a couple of townlands in the East3. In the middle of the 17th century the parish was divided between four of them. "The History of Cork'' by Petty, claims that one owned 10,000 acres.

John COLTHURST was granted this parish from CROMWELL in 1650 and from this point the family had the run of the slope!

But before they were scattered they were known for their immense learning and poetry.

The family had many priests and Thomas HERLIHY was Bishop of Ross and attended the Council of Trent 1561/2.

A poem was composed on the family history by the last poet in Ballyvourney, Father William who claimed descent from Eugene Mor and through him to the Erainn and the Milesians. He spoke of a chieftain of Munster perhaps full fifty years before Christ. There is also a reference to the sons of O'DONNELL. 4

David O'HERLIHY was still alive at the start of the eighteenth century and had the honour of serving the first Mass for his father, Pat son of David, (who studied in the College in Rome and returned to Ballyvourney as Parish priest, after a late vocation) his brother and one of his sons, Father William.

The traits of the family were that they ware sensible, civil and gentle as became the organisers of a court of learning. And in a period when poets were much given to criticism none had anything bad to say of the HERLIHY's or they of anyone else. The only common enemy was the English.

Their skill lay in composing single verse poetry - indeed this was the rule of the court  where the message was carried in few words but with much subtlety and some irony and humour. The tone, however was frequently sadness at the pain of life.


Taig, son of Tom was the last O'HERLIHY to own any considerable property in Ballyvourney and was one day in Macroom with David, son of Patrick and a few others. He took offence at the quality of the beer provided by a publican, John, and split the container in two with his sword. David composed a short verse to fit the situation, O'Donnell is a Northern name, and so is William (instead of Liam).. Is it possible that there is a marriage link here?

"The coin we paid was full in value
And the half empty glass is now truly in half.
A full measure now, please John." 5


Young Thomas was imprisoned in Cork city when he was caught recruiting men for the French Brigade. He was the brother of Taig son of Thomas. He was hung in 1725 and another HERLIHY composed a Lament on his death. The poem reads with tremendous dignity and gentle Measure. There is restraint and sadness.The poem speaks of this 'man of men' and of the great friendship of the McCARTHY's. The headstone of the grave is introduced to "this gentle person of the tribe that never hung 'their heads, the gem of the locality".


David, son of Patrick wrote this poem to greet the new landlord.

"There will be joy from one river to the other
Dancing and singing in the house
We offer freedom and our all."�


John COLTHURST established himself in Tigh na Cille and David son of Patrick and Patrick son of David were exiled to Chathair Iarthach between Kilgarvan and Kenmare.

David, son of Patrick composed this lament:

"My feet are sore and I am so weary and tired
That the gentle hand of God's Son would hardly ease me.
I trudge as a serf without land, my inheritance lost,
Like bees who are thrust from the hive
To lose pollen and honey and wax.
An iron hand grips my 'House of God's Servants'
And no guests are welcomed by a generous friend."


In exile David answered two local poets who continued to write. 0'CALLAGHAN wrote a poem on David's departure:

"It affects me badly that Tigh na Cille is without a chief
It was David son of Patrick O'Herlihy
Who was pushed westwards, over the hill."

David's reply is full of regret that he could not assist the members of his family who remained in Ballyvourney and who had fallen on hard times.


David's son, Father William, remained in the parish as its priest. But his hatred for the English grew as he saw what oppression his family suffered. The death of an Englishman prompted the following:

"It is a great sorrow that all Englishmen of this day do
not die as this George, without ceremony or mass or special prayers.
Let them be without neighbourliness or charity of any sorts."

Father William was in conflict with his Bishop and was threatened with the loss of the priesthood. David wrote to the Bishop:

"O Bishop, my dear sir, do not lack virtue
Take care and don't stab me with a swordstroke.
My flock, my great family have gone to the earth without stain.
Do not deprive me of the services of my son at my burial.
Even Peter was forgiven his one lapse."

Eventually however, he was removed from his parish and was obliged to move to Kerry, where the rest of his family had gone. What hurt him most was the fact that his own Bishop had removed him. In the poem composed to lament his rejection, the English and his own Bishop compete as villains and the final outcome results in Father William forgiving the English but not his own Bishop.

Father William also composed a song on the "Death of His Father"�.

"It is with sorrow that I recall the fall of the hawk of brilliant deeds.
His capacity for hospitality was great.
He championed his own even when conquered.
He took pride in being master of his own inheritance.
There is no comfort in my mind now that I see David dead."


1.     (around 1720) . (Hand written note by Michael O'Lionárd)

2.     A possible site is at Mills Bar, itself built on the site of a Mill, set up by the landlord, John COLTHURST.             The Home Farm is another possibility.

        The location of "Tigh na Cille"� is now more reliably thought to have been located between the present             graveyard and that part of the roadway known as "Ceim a Mhiniskip(?)" and thought to be of wooden             construction. (Hand written note by Michael O'Lionárd)

        Irish son-in-law thinks that "Tigh na Cille"� means "The House of the Gathering"  (Jim Herlihy)

3.     Probably McCARTHY owned.

4.     DONNELL is a Northern name, and so is WILLIAM (instead of LIAM). Is it possible that there is a                     marriage link here?

5.     This is not a true translation and is probably quite far from the actual meaning of the words. It certainly                 loses any dignity and charm residing in the original. But I have to give some flavour to this account until I             can look again at the poems.

        (Hand written note by Micheal O'Lionard) Reputedly there are seven priests buried in the family plot             adjacent to the southeastern corner of the old church at St Gobnait's Shrine. The grave is covered with         flagstones and is easily found. Until recent years, a "bone"�, wrapped in cloth and kept in a jar, was kept         beneath one of the flagstones. It formed an integral part of the "Round to St Gobnait" in those years.

        (Hand written note by Micheal O'Lionárd)

            Note: The writer of these extracts, Donnacha O'Croinin was professor of Irish in the Dublin Teachers             Training College. His mother was Bess Cronin (ni ) a renowned traditional Irish singer. Bess'  sister             Ellie, was Mairead uí Leonárd's mother, (herself a Mrs Dan Sullivan).

            Bess and Ellie's father (Mairead's grandfather) was a local schoolteacher who died in 1891. Like her             grandfather, who wrote some fine songs, Mairead too writes and sings some verses and songs in                     Irish, mostly for special occasions, History repeats!

        Micheal O'Lionárd
April 2001.