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O’Rourke Homelands

The O’Rourke Clan may be spread far and wide around the globe but our forefathers in Ancient Ireland first created homelands where O’Rourke’s were dominant and held seats of great power. Our clan may now extend across continents now but our origins lie deep within the heart of Ireland.

By the 9th century the O'Ruaircs had established themselves as kings of Breifne. In the 10th and 11th centuries the O'Ruairc kings of Breifne fought numerous battles to gain the title King of Connacht with 4 of them succeeding  


The kingdom of Breifne was the traditional stronghold of the clan O Rourke over a period of approximately 600 years.  The territory included the counties that are today known as Leitrim and Cavan and are part of the provinces of Connacht and Ulster.  However when the most powerful of O Rourke leaders was in power in the 12th century their kingdom also stretched from Kells in Co Meath to Drumcliff in Co Sligo. The Breifne region was seen to be a part of the greater province of Connacht until the period of power of Queen Elizabeth I.  At this time it was split into 2 counties, Leitrim and Cavan.  Cavan became part of the province of Ulster, with Leitrim remaining in the province of Connacht.


Dromahaire Castle:
To the South East of Lough Gill lies the site of Dromahaire, which was to be the principal headquarters for the O Rourke clan.  Dromahaire Castle was built by Ferghal C.1950.  The O Rourkes sat in power here up to the time of Sir Brians death in 1603 and it was the location of the infamous abduction of Dervogilla by MacMurrough in 1153.  Today the ruins of the nave, choir, tower and transept are well preserved and under protection as an Irish national monument.  Close to the site there also sits a manor house, which was built for Lord Villier c 1626 which replaced the original tower house of O Rourke.
WB Yeats was known to visit Dromahair regularly as a friend of the clergymen of the town.  He refers to Dromahair in his poem “The man who dreamed of Faeryland”:
He stood among a crowd at Dromahair
His heart hung all upon a silken dress
And he had known at last some tenderness
Before earth took him to her stony care...

The O Rourke lords also built a tower house on a piece of land at the edge of Lough Gill that went undiscovered until the 1970’s.  At this time the foundation of the house was discovered.  The tower house was thought to have been destroyed after Sir Brian na Murtha o Ruairc was executed in 1591.  In the early 17th century Capt Robert Parke gained possession of the land where he built a stronghouse.  The stronghouse included one of the original round towers and still stands today as Parkes Castle.


Creevelea Abbey:
Creevelea abbey (1508) was the last Francisican Friary to be built before the dissolution of Monasteries in King Henrys VII’s time.  The building of which was sponsored by local lord Eoghan O Rourke.  Both Eoghan and his wife Margaret are buried at the site in a magnificent tomb, which was still present in the late 18th century.  Beside the altar lies the tombstone of Bishop Thady O Rourke who was Bishop of Killala from 1707 to 1734, when the penal Laws were at their worst.  Bishop Thady was a descendant of the O Rourkes of Breifne.
The oldest grave to found at the abbey today is dated May 22nd 1721 and is in memory of Hugh O Roirk and Catharin McTernan.
In 1536 there was a serious fire in the Abbey in which one of the friars perished.
The O Rourkes were widely known for their hospitality and generosity.  The banqueting hall was built during a time when they were at the height of their power during the 10th and 11th century.  Their feasts were talked about far and wide and were often written about in poems and stories.  An excerpt of one such poem written by Dean Swift :
O’Rourke’s noble fare
Will ne’er be forgot
By those who were there
And those who were not
Ferghal O Rourke is though to have built one of the large round towers of Clonmacnoise Monastery during his reign as king of Connacht. And of course Dervogilla, wife of Tiernan was responsible for the building of the Nun’s church, which is on the same site as Clonmacnoise.