Sunday, October 16, 2011
The Penal Laws, 1691 -1829.
The object of the Penal Laws was to deprive the Irish of all civil life (Catholics) and reduce them to the most extreme and brutal conditions possible. They were denied an education, to have a profession or to hold down any public office. They were forbidden from engaging in trade or commerce, to own land, to vote, to bear arms or to own a horse that was worth more than five pounds. This was the background leading up to the Famine of 1845.
There are many stories that are told of the time of the Penal Law, one such tale concerns a young Irish man called Art O’Leary. He had been abroad serving as a Captain in the Austro-Hungarian army and had returned home with his horse from Vienna. He was married to Eileen O’Connell whose grandson was to be Daniel O’Connell the Liberator and great Irish hero. Art O’Leary had entered his horse in a race which it won easily, an English planter seeing this offered O’Leary five pounds for his horse but of course O’Leary refused it. He was immediately declared an outlaw and shortly afterwards shot through the heart, this was in 1773. The first his wife knew of this terrible murder was when the horse returned home without a rider
There is a haunting poem called The Dirge on the Death of Art O’Leary by his wife Eileen translated by Eleanor Hull. It is worth remembering that she composed this on the spot in the old tradition of the Irish Caoinead (pronounced “kween-eh”) meaning lament.
Lower image: The tomb of Art O’Leary in Kilcrea friary County Cork.