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Ancient Sweet Donoughmore


Irish Archives (Journal of the Irish Society for Archives)

Natalie Milne - National Archives of Ireland

This book, a historical ‘biography’ of a single parish, is the fruit of painstaking research conducted by the author over a number of decades, culminating in five year’s intense research and writing. Gerard O’Rourke is a native of Donoughmore, a rural parish located in mid county Cork. He clearly has a deep affection for his home, having previously written a history of the parish hurling and football club and is a prominent figure in the Donoughmore Historical Society. In this book he has effortlessly convinced the reader that the parish is a worthy subject for such a complete and thorough history.

The scope of the book extends from prehistory to the close of the 19th century. This lengthy timespan is divided into 11 chapters covering the dominant cultural, social and political concerns of each era including early Christianity, medieval times, the Famine, Fenianism, the Land War and local government. It is a clear chronological study of the locality, beginning with the prehistoric paganism and archaeological heritage of the area and ending with a chapter on education, focusing on the development of schooling. The book is generously illustrated with photographs, maps, charts and data and the attention to detail is evident in the numerous references, citations and appendices. However, it is O’Rourke’s use of sources that is most impressive. His skilful use of contemporaneous oral histories, the folklore of his community, bibliographic sources, recent scholarship and of course archival material, have been combined with such integrity that the parish is truly brought to life.

The first chapter on prehistoric Donoughmore sets the scene geographically. O’Rourke reports on the archaeological history of the locality focusing particularly on stone circles and stone monuments. It is here the author relies on the documentation of the early antiquarians who surveyed the land in order to try and explain the significance of these stone placements. He vividly describes the personalities involved whose interest and learned research have informed the present history and in turn highlights the importance of the local historian. O’Rourke speaks to his local readership by referencing the location of these stones to the property of current landowners. This may mean little to the wider readership but perhaps offer the only way for an interested party to find them; it also reminds us that O’Rourke is writing about what is to him, home.

Oral history and the importance of local superstitions are shown by the telling of the story of the whitethorn tree. In his chapter on early Christianity, O’Rourke explains that the superstition associated with the tree in the well of St Lachtin – the saint who founded the parish in the 5th century – still affects the modern day. According to local tradition, the branches of the tree provide cures for all ills, bringing bad luck to those who try to trim it; hence the reluctance even now of Cork County Council employees to take their pruning shears to it. O’Rourke also demonstrates in this chapter how verbal and documented history can provide conflicting versions of an event. Contradictory accounts of the movement of St Lachtin’s reliquary are deftly unscrambled, while a clear picture of the oral and manuscript evidence and the obstacles different sources can present to the researcher emerges.

This chapter further illustrates that the author is up-to-date in his research of the past and highlights questions raised by recent scholarship. O’Rourke refers to the connection made to royal assemblies and the townland of Fornaught, its Irish name possibly having evolved from the common term of assembly. He jovially poses the question that Donoughmore may have had a royal site and could possibly stake a claim in the annals of early medieval Irish history.

Throughout the book, O’ Rourke demonstrates his skill in interpreting sources into a vivid story. In his introduction he acknowledges that some periods of history are documented more thoroughly than others, leading to a greater emphasis on certain topics. Irish history has long suffered gaps in documentary evidence but this has not impacted on the completeness of Donoughmore’s history that is presented here. The parish was affected by many of the momentous developments that defied the country but despite these great themes, O’Rourke never loses sight of the parish. The chapter on the Land War and local government reform provides a moving account of the eviction of Jeremiah Wallace and his eight children just days before Christmas in 1890. Not only does it illustrate the severity of those times but also the unifying sorrow of the community and the passion of local heroes, often of the Catholic Church which appealed for compassion on behalf of the members of the parish.

A particularly strong chapter draws out the development of the school system by highlighting the frustrating injustice of bureaucracy and the officious school inspectors of the national schools. Human stories rarely fail to bring history to life and O’Rourke has picked his examples well.

O’Rourke has undertaken an ambitious venture to write a history of a parish from its prehistoric existence to the turn of the 20th century and in this he has produced a book that transcends local studies. It is a scholarly piece of work that sensitively illustrates how a local history is also the bigger picture. The defining moments of Ireland’s past are reflected entirely in this rural parish and are illuminated by O’Rourke’s clear and engaging writing.

Whilst clearly mastering the art of research in its various forms, O’Rourke never overwhelms the prose with too much research. In fact, despite the broad scope of the task and the wealth of sources used, he has produced a detailed study that is invaluable to both local historians and wider scholars. It is also essentially a tribute to his home, one that has inspired him to pass on its history to a wider audience. The ancient parish of Donoughmore has shown that a history of a rural parish is a history of the country.

Sharon Flynn Williams

As an American with paternal ancestors coming from Donoughmore, I am delighted with the wealth of information in Ancient Sweet Donoughmore.  Gerard O'Rourke has written a wonderful resource that is very useful for anyone interested in learning the prehistoric to modern history and what life was like for residents of this region. The text is clear and readable and is supplemented with many photographs and primary documents. This is an important book, and my family and I thank the author for his fine contribution.

Old ways and byways revisited, from Cork to Caherlistrane

Paul Clements - (Irish Times June 25th 2016)

There is a restless curiosity about local historians who spend their days raiding archives, rummaging through newspapers and sleuthing around graveyards. The result is a batch of newly published parish histories that combine learning with readability and reflect the daunting task of recording an earlier era. Writing in the foreword to Gerard O’ Rourke’s Ancient Sweet Donoughmore: Life in an Irish Rural Parish to 1900 (Redmond Grove Publications, €25), Prof. John A Murphy of University College Cork reflects that all history is local history. He suggests that for the historian of the locality, the greatest change has been the digital revolution, as more sources become available and almost immediately accessible.
The hills and boreens in this historic-soaked rural area of Co. Cork house a wealth of prehistoric monuments and antiquities. Donoughmore’s early Christian church is synonymous with St. Lachtin, whose arm- shaped reliquary is regarded as one of the finest examples of 12th - century metalwork in Ireland.
Eleven chapters embrace 6,000 years of human existence, covering, among other subjects, the transformation from paganism to Christianity, the Famine and its aftermath, the Land War, and local government reform up to the turn of the 20th century.
Interwoven amid the drama of faction fights, evictions and church attacks that animate this book, a story with a French connection stands out. During the Franco – Prussian War of 1870-71, the people of Donoughmore contributed a total of £31 3s in aid to the sick and wounded of Paris- a remarkable act of local generosity and solidarity.

Book brings history of Donoughmore parish back to life

Book Review by John Arnold - (Cork Evening Echo January 8th 2016)

Every now and then one is lucky to come across a publication which inspires the words ‘I wish I had written a book like that’. Over many decades I have been a collector of history publications. This latest work ‘ bates Banaghar’ when it comes to research , content, lay-out and production. The realisation of how quickly people, places, customs and stories can be forgotten prompted Gerard O’ Rourke to spend years researching this book. Professor of History at UCC, John A Murphy describe’s O’ Rourke’s book as a ‘fulfilment of a lifetime’s work’. This publication traces the history of Donoughmore from prehistoric time’s right up to Fenianism and the Land Wars. Divided into eleven chapters, it has magnificent reproductions of documents and photographs The ancient O’ Hely/ Healy sept. the infamous Rector Revd. Joseph Cotter, Rev. Morgan O’ Brien and the Earbery family, all feature largely in this most readable publication. It is a must for everyone with even the slightest connection with Donoughmore, but the readership will come from a far wider constituency. This is history as it should be- the people, places, ancient remains, land distribution, poverty, pride, war and peace, which shaped our country, all are here in a microcosm of life in one parish.

Ansel O’ Healihy

My father ordered this book not too long ago. We’re Haleys from the United States (Michigen) and to say the very least it is mind-blowing and has a full wealth of information that rattled my amateur family historian bones in a very good way. If you are from Donoughmore, a descendant of the parish like myself and my Dad, or just interested in a little big part of history, get this book. Rant over; this is a damn good book!

Louise Madden O' Shea || Journal of the Cork Folklore Project- Issue 20

This is a comprehensive, fastidiously researched book. It takes the reader back in time to pre-history in stunning detail and follows with a wide ranging journey from paganism to 1900. O' Rourke looks to each chapter with a diligence that must be complimented. His ability to investigate what seems to be a national issue and condense this to a local level is amazing. He illustrates each of the chapters with carefully selected and interpreted maps, drawings and or photographs. O' Rourke's in-depth topographical details reflect a deep knowledge and connection which he has for this parish. It is beautifully and engagingly written and allows the reader to dip in and out as they please. Not only are there anecdotal passages that delight, there are also fascinating nuggets of history that would be otherwise lost in a general tome. For those that have the same love of history as Gerard O' Rourke this book is a must, for those that are passionate about local history it is essential and for those that are part of the landscape of Donoughmore it should be sitting on your bookshelf.

Books Ireland (May-June 2016)

The growth of a Mid-Cork rural district, remarkably well documented and illustrated with facsimiles and photographs.

John Coolahan, Professor Emeritus of Education National University of Ireland

A very interesting and informative piece of work which is well sourced and referenced

John A Murphy, Emeritus Professor of History UCC

The book enhances and enriches our understanding of this storied locality

Michael Galvin, Author and Historian

A scholary and truely monumental body of work that will be treasured for future generations